With Joe Begos’ latest offering, the relentlessly gory and hugely entertaining festive shocker Christmas Bloody Christmas, the indie filmmaker continues to showcase that there’s truly nothing he can’t do. From sci-fi to vampires, and even a dystopian siege movie, it’s clear that Begos has an eye for a sensational genre spin on otherwise familiar material.
Christmas Bloody Christmas follows holiday hater Tori (Riley Dandy), a record store owner who just wants to get drunk and talk movies with her co-worker, Robbie (Sam Delich). Meanwhile, a murderous Santa robot starts plundering their small town. Begos’ frequent collaborator Graham Skipper also has a starring role in Christmas Bloody Christmas, damn near stealing the show despite limited screen-time.
I recently caught up with Begos to talk Christmas Bloody Christmas, hating Christmas, the freedom of working in the indie space, showing female pleasure onscreen and so much more.
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Joey Keogh: So, why a Christmas horror movie? ‘Cause you’ve done the sci-fi stuff, your punk rock dystopian movie, you’ve done a vampire movie — was this just the natural progression, the next step for you as a filmmaker?
Joe Begos: I’ve always wanted to do one. I don’t think there are enough Christmas horror movies, and my style is very much… I don’t want to say aesthetic-based, but I very much like to have these strong aesthetics fused into my films, and Christmas just kind of lends itself to that. It always has. And going back to when I was a teenager and they were exploding with all these remakes — I was a teenager during the big, early-2000s remake craze — and I always thought that if I became a director, the movie I’d most want to remake is Silent Night, Deadly Night, because it just has such great iconography and the sensationalism of a killer Santa and children being killed on Christmas [laughs]. It really spoke to me. And I felt like that was a movie that coasted more on its iconography and status than actually being of good quality, so I thought that was something where you could kind of redo it and actually elevate the movie, unlike a lot of other horror remakes they were doing. So, time went on and time went on, and they had a remake, and then it kind of died out, and then I was asked to pitch on a remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Right after Bliss and VFW came out, the rights holders at the time had asked me to pitch on it, and I wrote a 12-page treatment which, literally beat for beat, was this movie. And they read it, and they turned it down because it wasn’t close enough to the story of the original Silent Night, Deadly Night, thus they were worried they were going to anger the fans.
JK: Of course.
JB: I’m like, motherfucker, I’m the fan base. We’re talking about a killer Santa here. Nobody cares. So, because I had gone so far off the beaten path with the plot, and it was very different, it was kind of like, well, I own this idea, they don’t own this idea, they didn’t pay me to do it, I should’ve just written this as an original script. So, I did, and it got made really fast. It was kind of crazy. And then the remake still hasn’t happened.
JK: I was thinking, when you mentioned it, that I couldn’t remember a Silent Night, Deadly Night remake coming out. It’s funny — Christmas horror is having such a moment right now with Krampus, Better Watch Out, etc., and it’s good original Christmas horror too. So why bother going back to that well? There’s no need for it, really.
JB: It’s really just because the original movie is so cool, but we can get past that.
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JK: If someone was going to take it and do something really different with it, then maybe. I mean, I think your idea is great, obviously, but I can kind of understand where they’re coming from because there are going to be people who want it to be exactly like the original and then plenty of others who want it to be completely different, and they’re always going to be split down the middle. It’s just impossible to please both.
JK: I was really thrilled to see a Christmas movie with a lead character who hates Christmas. As someone who personally hates Christmas, I think we need to see more Christmas haters in movies. Are you a Christmas hater yourself Do you love it? What’s your position on this very important issue?
JB: I’m neutral on it, I guess. I don’t have a family — well, I have a dad, I guess, but I don’t have kids and a wife and all that stuff, so I don’t really celebrate Christmas. What you see in this movie is what me and my friends do: just watch movies and party and cook food and have fun. So, I don’t necessarily hate it, but it’s kind of an annoyance sometimes, especially if I’m working on a project at the time, because everything shuts down for three weeks. I live in L.A. now, and it’s warmer, so it’s better, but being in Rhode Island — where I grew up — Christmas meant that it was fucking cold all the time, which was annoying. I just hated that temperature. I hated all that shit, and I think that if I was Tori and I owned a record store, I would really hate Christmas because now you’re dealing with that whole holiday glut of bullshit. So, I’m kind of neutral. I can go either way. But it’s an annoyance sometimes, and the character of Tori is me in a lot of ways, and I was thinking if I did own a record store and had to deal with Christmas and lived in a mountain town and had to deal with all that snow too, I would be very over it. But I hate Christmas music, and I hate how it cuts into Halloween now.
JK: It was November 1, quite literally, Halloween was over, and Christmas started. Just… why?
JB: Out here, it was like October 20. At Target, it was all discounted Halloween shit, and it’s like this is when people are going to be buying it, so it doesn’t really make sense.
JK: You mentioned Tori’s record store, so I have to ask whether that’s a real place. Because honestly, it was so cool I kind of wanted the whole movie to take place in there, almost.
JB: That’s actually why, even though it doesn’t really make plot sense — that’s why I brought the action back there in the end. That was just an empty shell of a building, and I got to design it from the ground up. Obviously, we were limited building it from the ground up on an indie budget, so we had to source everything in there. And I wished it was a little bit bigger. But once she gets her settlement from the robot company for the sequel, Tori can have a big two-floor mall location. If I had a store like that, that’s kind of how I would want it to look. And I’m kind of sad that it got torn down. I wish somebody had taken it over in that town, because everybody was like “is this a new record store?” — poking their heads in because we shot in the middle of nowhere. Somebody should’ve taken it over and given me a 10 percent stake in it, since I fucking designed the goddamn thing and I’ve given you some revenue since it’s been in a movie. But now it’s like a coat store or something. It was just a “For Lease” building that we took over, and now it’s already another store. But it was just a white-walled fucking room to start with.
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JK: You’ve done, and continue to do, a lot of great work in the indie space, even though Christmas Bloody Christmas feels like it’s on a much larger scale. There’s a line that I perceived to be kind of shady towards Blumhouse in there, which I really enjoyed, so I’m wondering what you like most about working in this particular space? Obviously, nobody wants to stay low budget forever, but is it the freedom of it that keeps you working there?
JB: One-hundred percent. This had a decent budget compared to my last few movies, but it still was pretty low. It’s funny… I like the indie model because, say that this script went to — the budget was a couple million bucks — but let’s say this script did go somewhere like New Line or somewhere like that, at a studio level — and this is not a dig against them, this is just how it works — and they gave us like $15 million to make this movie, it probably would’ve looked cheaper just because I wouldn’t have been able to shoot on film. I would’ve had to shoot less days, which means less robot stuff. Even if they let me build it practically, I would’ve had to hire some CW actor who probably didn’t even want to do the movie and was getting a $300,000 paycheck. So, for me, I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I’m still in the indie space, but that’s fine to me because I feel like I am getting a little bit more money, and this is my sixth movie now, and I’ve been going up a little bit each time, but me and my producing partner, Josh Ethier, we were trusted — we got to do what we wanted, and we were able to put the money where we wanted, and we were able to figure out how to make the movie on our own terms, and we came in on budget and all that. And I just don’t know if there’s an appeal to me to go to a bigger budget unless I did have that freedom. Because not only do I have 100 percent creative freedom, but the movie feels bigger than I think it would’ve elsewhere. I’m not going to be able to go and get $50 million — I’m going to get eight, nine, 10 million dollars. And a lot of Blumhouse movies are this budget or lower — some of ‘em are higher — and it’s Ethan Hawke in an Airbnb for two hours. The money needs to go somewhere else. People aren’t watching horror movies to see Ethan Hawke. I’m sorry, they’re not. For me, it’s a nice mix, you know? I’m always thinking “what’s the level I can get to where I can still do this at an indie level and keep getting more money?” But you never know — maybe there’ll be a studio movie that’ll come along that will attract my attention. But I like this space. I like this element of being able to do whatever I want, making really crazy, original movies.
JK: Well, one thing that stuck out to me that probably wouldn’t have been in Christmas Bloody Christmas, as sad as it is, if this was a studio movie, is the sex scene. And it’s interesting because, I’m sure you heard, recently Olivia Wilde got into trouble because she was bragging about the oral sex scene in Don’t Worry Darling, saying “only female pleasure is shown in this movie.” And then it turned out quite sterile, and there were questions about consent and whatever else, so if this was a studio movie, I doubt it would’ve been in there. And it certainly wouldn’t have been as long of a scene either, I don’t think.
JB: Especially infused with murder! It’s so funny — the movie hadn’t premiered yet, but I just remember when Olivia Wilde was doing the press rounds and she was like, “Oh, in my movie, only females get off.” And then you see the movie, and it’s like, well, there’s a reason for that. Also, that happens in my movie too, and you don’t see me parading it around in press. In both scenarios, it’s only the woman getting off, and I just think that’s interesting. It wasn’t meant to happen — it’s just a natural thing, and it’s awesome. And I didn’t even think about it because that scene is carefully written too — literally the cuts and the music and the track and the frame rate… it’s all written into it. So, if you had to take that out, it’s such a sensationalist piece that gets the movie kicking into high gear. There are so many elements like that that definitely wouldn’t have been allowed in the movie for sure. And it’s just… yeah. It’s weird. But I don’t like things that are too sterile anyway, I like sensationalism.
JK: I can tell. Before I let you go, I have to ask: Graham Skipper is in Christmas Bloody Christmas, and he’s been in all of your movies thus far. I was actively waiting for him to pop up this time, so I was delighted when he did. Do you feel like he’s your good luck charm? Like, without him, a movie isn’t quite complete?
JB: I’d feel weird if he wasn’t in the movie. He’s one of my best friends. I love having him around. So, it’s just trying to find — he has a very distinct personality and screen presence to him, so it’s nice finding something to plug him into. It’s funny, too — he gets the biggest laugh of the movie. I’ve seen it now in a handful of packed auditoriums and the place always explodes for him. We actually miss his second line of dialogue, that whole exchange in the darkness, because people are fucking laughing so much. I’m glad that even though his role is short, he’s got a big moment there.
Christmas Blood Christmas released December 9, 2022 on Shudder.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.