Australia | 2017 | Directed by Gary Doust
Logline: A light-hearted documentary that follows the complete production process of a low-budget horror movie with all the obstacles and pitfalls that come with it.
Some of the most memorable documentaries set out to tell one story, but end up telling another, or court ambitions of capturing all that is crucial, and yet something more intrinsic and fascinating emerges. Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse about Francis Ford Coppola making Apocalypse Now is one such documentary, so is American Movie about Mark Borchardt making his short film Coven. Now we have the making of Craig Anderson’s Red Christmas, and all that is nightmarish is good in the world.
Anderson was a frustrated bit player, an actor reduced to playing those small thankless roles on Australian TV. He harboured a passionate interest in cult-flavoured horror movies, especially the lesser known curios, those lost gems that never got a proper release on DVD, which he added to his monstrous VHS collection. But Anderson had a very big itch that needed scratching; to make his own weird cult horror movie, something that could fit snugly on his shelves alongside other treasures like Basket Case and It’s Alive!
So he set about making his own movie, at all cost, and the result is one of the funniest, most heart-warming stories of tenacity, fool-hardiness, desperation, and perverse joy within the often cruel, relentless, and unforgiving realm of DIY, independent, low-budget filmmaking. The horror genre is full of these endeavours, but few, if any, have been captured from go to woe to hey-ho with such grotesque charm, cringe-inducing outrageousness, and sheer championship, as Gary Doust’s fly-on-the-wall, take-no-prisoners, warts-and-all account - and case study - of Anderson’s feature debut as writer and director.
After spending several years on a script - about an aborted foetus, now adult grown, that seeks retribution on its mother and her family - Anderson finds himself sleeping on a mattress on the floor of of his warehouse office with eighty grand of his own savings set aside, and an Ace up his sleeve: Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo, E.T.) has agreed to take the lead role as the mother. But Anderson still needs to get her to Australia. Somehow he manages to convince his reticent brother to loan him $60,000. Okay, that’s encouraging. So now he coerces his good friend Bryan Moses to take the role of 1st AD and informs him they have just sixteen days to shoot 330 scenes.
It can only go pear-shaped from there. And, of course, it does, magnificently. Moses has a nosebleed from stress on the first day of shooting. Brilliant.
Laden with scene after scene of deliciously oh-my-god moments (both in shock and mirth), Horror Movie ticks all the boxes about what NOT to do, and yet, the production continues to stumble along, getting results. From Anderson’s early shock revelation about his upcoming circumcision, to his insistence on using a real placenta in one of the movie’s gore gags, to the brave move of using Down Syndrome actor Gerard Dwyer in a pivotal role, to the utter fearlessness in hoping Dee Wallace won’t just walk off set the moment she arrives on location and sees what a shonky farrago the production actually is. Oh, and the test screenings on the ocean liner, we can’t forget those. It’s a smorgasbord of production hell moments, punctuated by Anderson’s nervous, but infectious giggle.
Big props to both Anderson and Doust in allowing a potentially humiliating project transform into something genuinely inspiring, surprisingly moving, and unashamedly entertaining. You don’t need to have seen Red Christmas to enjoy Horror Movie. There are two versions, a 99-minute cinema cut, and an extended two-hour two-parter screening in Australia on ABC, the first part on Halloween, 9:30pm.
Yes, do yourself a favour and watch this superb little documentary. It’s all the silly troubles, simple pleasures, and heartbreaking falls of life rolled into one twisted tale of a crazy "family" of creatives doing what they love, and rolling with the pinches and punches. If there’s one moral to conjure: throw caution to the wind, because life ain’t a breeze, it's a damn gust.