While the holiday season is meant to bring families and friends joy and peace as they spend time together, many people can still become disenchanted with how extremely commercialized the celebration has become in recent times. That’s certainly the case for fiery record store owner, Tori Tooms, the protagonist of the new horror movie, ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas.’ She has become so disillusioned that the holiday has become so business-oriented that she doesn’t cherish the quality time she has with her friends and family until Santa Claus brings them together in a shockingly unexpected way.
Joe Begos wrote, directed and produced ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas,’ which is now playing in theaters, courtesy of RLJE Films, and streaming on Shudder. The drama stars Riley Dandy as Tori, as well as Sam Delich, Jonah Ray Rodrigues, Dora Madison, Jeremy Gardner, Jeff Daniel Phillips and Abraham Benrubi.
In ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas,’ it’s Christmas Eve and Tori just wants to get drunk and party, until the robotic Santa Claus at a nearby toy store goes haywire and makes her night more than a little complicated. Santa Claus begins a rampant killing spree through the neon drenched snowscape against a backdrop of drugs, sex, metal and violence, which ultimately forces Tori into a blood splattered battle for survival against the ruthless heavy metal Saint Nick himself.
Begos generously took the time recently to talk about scribing, helming and producing ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that he came up with the idea for the movie when he was asked to pitch an idea for a remake of ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night,’ but when that project fell through, he decided to turn his script into his own feature. He also mentioned that it was a challenge to create some of the stunts for the new independent film, but appreciated that the cast and crew were able to work together to generate the visuals for the feature.
The conversation began with Begos discussing what inspired him to pen the script for ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas,’ and how he approached developing the feature’s story. “The idea came from when I was asked in early 2020 to pitch on a ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’ remake from the people who currently have the rights to it. That was always the movie I wanted to remake the most because I love the iconography and title of the movie, which I never thought lived up to its description,” he shared.
“If I was describing (‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’) to my friends when I was a kid, that (description) was always cooler than what the movie ended up being. The movie falls flat, so I thought that was the kind of movie that needs to be remade, as it can be improved on,” the writer further explained.
“So when the chance to pitch on it came up, I was super excited. Like I said, I didn’t like or care about the story in the original. So I thought, how can I use the iconography and things I do like about it to improve it?,” Begos shared. “So I thought, what if it’s a robot Terminator Santa Claus, as ‘Terminator’s my favorite movie?
“So I got super excited about it and wrote out a 10-page treatment and thought, they’re going to finance this right away. So I handed it in and put my feet up, as I was so stoked,” the filmmaker continued.
“But then they said, ‘This is too different from the original, and the fans aren’t going to be happy,” Begos revealed. “I was like, I’m the fanbase, and no one cares about the story.
“Then COVID hit soon after and I was sitting home, bored. I was like, they’re right, it is so much different; this is an original movie, and they didn’t pay me to write it. So I just changed the title and took my 10-page treatment and wrote the script, which is beat for beat of the treatment,” the scribe shared.
“Soon after, my rep sent the script out and it got financed really fast, at a bigger budget than I would have had if it was the remake of ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night,'” Begos divulged. “So I was forced to come up with the idea for something else, but it eventually become it own original thing, which is so much cooler to me.”
The filmmaker then delved into how besides penning the screenplay, he also directed the drama, and how he approached helming the feature throughout the production. “It was fun. I was writing all of this crazy stuff just for fun, and not thinking it was ever going to happen because the story would require a bigger budget. But then on set, I got less money then I needed for this movie and I had to figure all of this stuff out,” he shared.
“Luckily, I had a great crew who was behind the project 100 percent and was able to have a good shooting schedule. So through hell or high water, we shot almost everything that was in the script, and it was a lot of fun,” Begos added.
The filmmaker then shared what the casting process was like for the movie, particularly Dandy for the lead role of Tori. “All of the secondary characters were people I’ve worked with before or friends of mine who are actors. So I populated the script with people like that while I was writing it,” he shared.
“But the two leads I didn’t know. They were cast with the help of a casting director. Thanks to my partners and financiers at RLJE (Films) and Shudder, I was basically able to cast whoever I wanted, and find the best possible people for the roles,” Begos explained.
“Once I saw the audition tapes for Sam and Riley, I knew these guys were the ones. I also went through some additional steps with them during the casting process. I do a lot of improv, so I riffed with them during the casting process,” the director shared. “They were riffing stuff I would have written myself, so I thought, they’re perfect for the roles.
“Then when we got on set, they had the chemistry I thought they would have. So casting them was a very organic process, and it completely worked out in our favor,” Begos added.
Further speaking of improvising, once production began, the actors did incorporate some of their own ideas into the story. “We definitely did some improv. We added more stuff to the script for some of the scenes, but for other scenes, we did more improv. We would do their improv in rehearsals, so it wasn’t like, I’m going to roll the camera, and they would do whatever they want,” the filmmaker explained.
“There was a bigger rehearsal process because we shot on film. So during those rehearsal times on set, they would bring up some improvs they wanted to do, and I would help them shape it and build the best possible scene,” Begos added. “So it was a nice mix. They knew their characters in and out, and they’re also really good at riffing, so it all worked out.”
With ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ following Tori as she’s forced to battle back against the robotic Santa Claus after it comes to life, the helmer then shared how he created the action sequences with the feature’s cast and crew. “It was a nightmare. We had a small budget, so trying to stage all of that with no budget and very little crew was challenging,” he admitted.
“But luckily, we had some time – not a lot of time, but for an indie film, we had a decent amount of time” to work on creating the stunts, Begos also shared. “That was a testament to the team that I had. We were able to pull all together and make some big explosions, cool robots and car crashes.”
Another element of the film that the filmmaker also enjoyed creating was the score, to showcase Tori’s love of music and enthusiasm for being a record store owner. “That was a blast. It’s all music that I like. Besides from the one track that’s playing in the murder/sex crosscut, pretty much everything was just us putting in songs that we’re fans of and seeing how they vibe with the scene,” he explained.
“It’s very much a tonal thing. We tried six or seven songs in the background of the record store before we found one that was perfect in tone. So it was fun to pepper in that stuff and form and shape it in the post process,” Begos added.
‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ is set in Tori’s small town, and was shot in Los Angeles and Placerville, California. The director then shared what the process was like of shooting the drama on location, and creating the production design for each setting.
“I love neon lights, so with each of my films, I build up a way to incorporate neon more. It’s to the point now where even if it’s not the most realistic thing, it’s the world I want to create,” Begos noted.
“Obviously, I wasn’t going to decorate the police station in neon, but I like to bathe a lot of settings in that kind of lighting. That’s also why I like Christmas movies – they already have that color and palettes,” the filmmaker divulged.
“All the locations that we found were just empty buildings. The toy store existed, but everything else we pretty much built from the ground up. So I was really able to form that world that I wanted,” Begos also shared.
“We were just scouting different little towns. When we came across the town we filmed in, Placerville, it was almost like I wrote the script for it, even though I had never been there,” the helmer admitted.
Begos then shared what inspired him to also produce the drama, in addition to writing and directing it. “Well, I have a producing partner who I produce all of my movies with, who’s one of my life-long best friends, Josh Ethier. On this film, we were the only two producers,” he divulged.
“We usually produce our movies from the ground up. The way we usually do it is that I’ll get the project set up and going, and try to find the money. I’ll then put the cast and crew together. Then in pre-production, we’ll start to meld together,” the filmmaker noted.
“Then once we begin shooting, he’ll take over the producing, so that I can start directing the movie. Since we’re so close and have done pretty much everything together, he knows all the things that I want. He’s also always there to help fix problems and be supportive,” Bregos continued.
“As producers, we know how each other works in and out. That allows us, as the filmmakers, to know that in order to make this the best possible movie, we’re going to need twice as many days as we usually do on an indie movie. We’re going to need the money here and there, and that allowed us to make this movie,” the producer divulged.
With ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ now playing in theaters and streaming on Shudder, Begos shared what the experience of distributing the feature through the dual model has been like. “It’s pretty terrifying to have the movie coming out in a lot of theaters because then there are more eyes on you, so if you don’t do well, more people know about,” he admitted.
“We’re obviously a small movie, so it’s crazy that it’s going to be simultaneously playing in theaters across the U.S. and streaming in multiple countries on every VOD outlet. But it’s great that people are going to be able to watch it in so many different ways!,” the filmmaker concluded.
Abraham Benrubi as Santa in the horror film, ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas,’ a Shudder and RLJE Filmsrelease. Photo courtesy of ShudderandRLJE Films.