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Stranger Things: All-Encompassing Season 4 Review

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Warning: Stranger Things 4 Spoilers ahead.

With record-length episode runtimes, 13 Emmy nominations, and at least five records broken at Netflix, the success of the fourth season of Stranger Things is undeniable.

Picking up less than a year after season three left off, season four starts with the group separated. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the Byers family now live in California, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is being held prisoner in Russia, and the rest remain in Hawkins.

While the show would eventually see forces coming together, this would not be until after Eleven is subjected to more lab experimentation, and the Hawkins group goes head-to-head with the series’ most formidable bad guy yet, Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower). In a race to stop Max (Sadie Sink) from becoming Vecna’s next victim, the Stranger Things friends find that the situation is much more harrowing than they ever anticipated.

With the expert implementation of memorable sounds, compelling characters, and gut-wrenching presentations of love and horror, Stranger Things may be one of the best seasons yet. ’86 baby.

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Sounds of the Season

Stranger Things did not hold back when it came to creating earworms for season four. From the return of classic hits to character quotes and unusual captions, ST4 is packed with auditory stimulation.

Reviving Classics

Max’s song that protected her from Vecna, Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill”, is the undisputed anthem of the season.

Its impact on viewers can be measured by the chart-topping status it has held ever since the fourth season premiered on Netflix. Kate Bush is not the only artist to enjoy their songs being introduced to the upcoming generations, as Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is gracing charts as well.

Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) playing a Metallica song for “the most metal concert in the history of the world” is especially fitting, seeing as how the real person he is based upon is a notorious Metallica fan.

“Separate Worlds (Worlds Apart)” by Journey has also seen rejuvenation from the show, as it was not only played in the first trailer release but also played as the core group readied themselves for the final battle.

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While not as much of a successful stand-out as the other songs in this list, Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” served as a haunting theme for the Creel house.

Quotes

Outside of the memorable music played in the season, many quotes from the characters have become instant favorites. Quotes from Eddie Munson tend to be the most popular, so much so that the dialogue between Eddie and Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien) was remixed into a viral music beat titled “Chrissy Wake Up”.

But it’s not just the Hellfire Club leader that had instantly classic lines this season.

Steve Harrington’s (Joe Keery) explanation about who pauses Fast Times at Ridgemont High at 53 minutes and 5 seconds or series newcomer Argyle’s (Eduardo Franco) motto for pineapple on pizza: “Try before you deny” are immediately identifiable, along with countless others from the spectacularly written season.

Stranger Captions

As anyone who has watched the season with captions on will attest, sounds that aren’t physically heard can still be memorable. The sounds of Vecna’s “ichorous” tentacles were never left to the imagination, as they could be found slithering, constricting, “squelching wetly” or, my personal favorite, “undulating moistly.”

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There is also a variety of “stingers” ranging from ominous, to dramatic, discomforting, and horrific. Don’t worry though, as some “hokey muzak” plays, breaking up some of the tension.

Stranger Things Characters

While the cinematography and storyline are fantastic, the characters truly make the show.

Introducing New Faces

This season had its share of brand-new characters to root for or against.

New Friends

Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) stoner friend Argyle was instantly a fan favorite, and the adoration of Eddie Munson is already legendary. So much so that fans have started a petition to bring him back to the show, which as of this writing has over 73,000 signatures.

These two were not the only new companions that were instant favorites. Fans quickly loved Hopper’s Soviet comrade Dmitri (Tom Wlaschiha), who helped Hopper plan his jailbreak.

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Then, the introduction of “The Peanut Butter Smuggler” Yuri (Nikola Djuricko) brought about comedic moments in an otherwise tense season. Who could forget the scene with his untouched helicopter named after Katinka?

Though given his traitorous self-interest, Yuri played more of a pseudo-villain than a friend this season, and he was far from the only one.

Pseudo Villains

Although she only appeared in 3 episodes, Angela (Elodie Grace Orkin) did an excellent job at making everyone simultaneously hate her character. Orkin’s portrayal of the popular mean girl was so phenomenal that it was all the more satisfying when Angela finally got her comeuppance by way of a roller skate to the forehead.

Mason Dye, who played Jason, also put on an excellent portrayal of a hated character, as his downward spiral and popular boy attitude were executed gracefully. While being ripped in half by an emerging gate to the Upside Down was his fate, frankly, it didn’t feel good enough.

After beating Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) to a pulp, smashing the headset that could’ve saved Max, single-handedly preventing Lucas from saving her from Vecna, stirring up a Satanic Panic in Hawkins, and not to mention allowing Vecna his fourth kill that ripped Hawkins, Indiana in half in the first place…it would’ve been nice if he had been smacked in the forehead with a roller skate too, and then ripped in half.

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(Violence isn’t the answer kids. It just makes for satisfying bad guy conclusions on television shows.)

Of course, mini villains Angela and Jason pale starkly in comparison when it comes to the real villain of the season.

Henry/Vecna/One

Jamie Campbell Bower’s transformation from the caring orderly to the ruthless villain was flawless. While Horror Press readers may have known that Vecna was going to have a human origin even before the season aired, few viewers saw it coming that the helpful orderly who cared for Eleven was the main antagonist all along. The Vecna identity reveal was one of the best moments of the season, which says a lot for a season so gripping and powerful.

Furthermore, Stranger Things’ resolve to have a villain created with practical effects rather than CGI was an excellent call, as Vecna’s face is already solidified amongst the haunting faces in horror. Although, Vecna’s body shots are taken a little less seriously as viewers have likened him to a skinned Grinch. Whether he has ever truly lived at the top of Mount Crumpit aside, no one can deny the terrifying nature of his presence, nor the shocking, eye-popping way in which he kills.

After all, his body count is staggering. Not only did he murder his mother and sister, not only did he decimate an entire lab full of psychic children, not only did he cause the brutal deaths of Chrissy Cunningham, Patrick (Myles Truitt), and Fred Benson (Logan Riley Bruner), and the probable brain death of Max, but season four brought about the startling revelation that One created the Mind Flayer.

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That means all the Hawkins residents who got turned into Mind Flayer mush in season 3, Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), and all of those that got killed at the demodog coup at Hawkins Lab in season 2, including Bob Newby (Sean Astin), are all dead because of Vecna.

This of course does not even consider how many died from the ripping of Hawkins, nor how many will die before season five ends the series.

Honorable Mention

Although brief, one would be remiss not to include the appearance of horror legend Robert Englund as the wrongfully imprisoned, father of Henry/Vecna/One: Victor Creel. It is especially fitting that Englund would appear this season as the similarities to Nightmare on Elm Street are enormous.

Old Characters do New Tricks

ST4 saw dynamic characters as old favorites and demonstrated that there is more to them than we’ve seen.

Whether it was finding out that Murray (Brett Gelman) is a karate fighting badass, seeing Erica Sinclair in all of her nerd glory playing D&D, a Hopper that got ripped, a pothead Jonathan (although his character was more or less the same), Eleven trying to assimilate into school life with no powers, Max struggling with depression, Lucas as a popular kid, or Will subtly professing his love for Mike, season four presented these familiar characters in fresh ways.

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Old Characters do Old Tricks

While some characters trod new territory, others followed their typical character paths. For example, Steve Harrington is still the honorary den mother, who is desperately seeking love, and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) is still oblivious when it comes to matters of the heart.

Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) is a genius who unwittingly helps to save the day, and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) will still stop at nothing to save the person she loves (we can say at this point that she loves Hop, can’t we?).

While fresh takes are welcome and most times necessary, most of these characters’ greatness is ingrained by these familiar characteristics.

Love & Fear

If anyone remembers the presentation given by Beth Grant and Patrick Swayze in Donnie Darko, they’ll remember that “fear and love are the deepest of human emotions.”

If that’s the case, ST4 played on our deepest emotions as the presentations of love and fear were extraordinarily powerful and sometimes simultaneous.

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Horror Comes to Hawkins

While the prior seasons had their share of haunting imagery (e.g., Will Byers’ autopsy, the imposing size of the smoke Mind Flayer, or people seizing into piles of human goo), the seasons of Stranger Things as a whole never felt truly scary…until now. The fourth season of the hit show wasted no time letting viewers know this season would be no walk in the park, as it opened with a mass genocide of psychic children.

If viewers had any doubts about what they were in for, Stranger Things then ended the first episode with the most horrific murder yet. Viewers were left shocked as Chrissy Cunningham floated off the ground and had her limbs snapped one by one. We don’t like this either, Eddie.

Just kidding, we loved it. Although Chrissy Cunningham would have made a compelling character for the series, and she had natural chemistry with Eddie Munson, her gruesome death served as a road sign for the season. This is the moment that told us all to buckle up, we’re in for a bumpy ride through Hawkins.

Of course, the horror didn’t stop there, as gruesome hallucinations from spiders to cradles on fire ensure nightmares for everyone. Perhaps the most chilling of all the hallucinations brought about by Vecna, lie within the first few moments of his trance, as characters do not realize at first that they are hallucinating.

This act is most terrifying, as it suggests that the world in which they think they are existing in is not the world they think it is at all. This kind of reality-bending, mind-twisting horror is by far the scariest.

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Though gore had its place in this season too. Steve’s bloody bat wounds, Victor Creel’s gouged-out eyes, One being ripped apart by lightning, and a ripped-in-half basketball player are some of the visual depictions of horror brought about by this jaw-dropping season.

Stranger Things: Love and Ships

Fear’s antithesis played a driving force in much of the season.

Max

Since Max played a large role, it makes sense to see her involvement with love manifested in all different ways.

Lucas & Max

In its most obvious form exists the love that Lucas and Max have for each other. Lucas realized before anyone that something was wrong with Max when her Vecna-induced headaches first began.

It was Lucas’ words that rang the loudest when Max was able to escape from Vecna for the first time: “I don’t need a letter […] I’m right here.”

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It is together that they awaited Vecna to fall into Max’s trap, it was Lucas that Max seemingly spoke her last words to, and it is by her bedside that Lucas waits patiently for her to return.

Easter Egg Alert: Lucas read The Talisman to Max as she lay in her post-Vecna coma. This story by Stephen King has been picked up by the Duffer Bros and is poised to become a future Netflix series.

Love Between Friends

When in the throes of a Vecna attack, it wasn’t just memories of Lucas that saved her from the negative thoughts that Vecna would prey upon. Max flashed back to many good times with her group of friends, and Eleven especially.

This love between friends is reciprocated as Eleven goes to great lengths to stay by Max’s side and try to save her from the Upside Down’s five-star general.

These powerful displays of friendship in the face of an evil that feeds upon trauma serve as a fantastic metaphor for the overwhelming benefit of having friends on your side when going through hard times.

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Mileven and Byler

The relationship between Mike and Eleven has been a subject of the series from the very beginning. In the final moments of Eleven’s battle with Vecna, when all hope seemed lost, Mike opened his heart to Eleven, and hearing confirmation of his love for her helped her to grow strong enough to save the day.

While it would be more enjoyable to see Eleven empower herself, the scene was powerful, nonetheless.

It was doubly powerful because Will was the one who encouraged Mike to inspire Eleven with his love. He urged Mike on, calling back to the previous conversation that the two had.

In that conversation, it was heavily implied that Will has strong feelings for Mike. Mike, who is historically oblivious to nuanced matters of the heart, remained oblivious.

The scene, along with Noah Schnapp confirming that Will is indeed gay and in love with Mike, has a preponderance of fans rooting for the two to end up together.

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This all calls into question what end can become of this triangle and if this doesn’t mean a tragic finale for at least one involved.

Steve, Nancy, Jonathan, Robin, and… Vecna?

Love was on the minds and motivations of many of the characters. As Eddie Munson had explained to Steve, the way that Nancy had rushed to save him with no hesitation “was as unambiguous a sign of true love as these cynical eyes have ever seen.”

Steve is always looking for love and has kept his interest in Nancy no secret from day one. This is complicated as Nancy and Jonathan are still together, and even more complicated given that their relationship seems to be on the rocks. Undoubtedly this love triangle will be a plot point in Stranger Things season five.

However, if left up to the cast members to decide, Nancy would end up with someone else entirely, as the three cast members who act the roles of this love triangle reportedly have a text thread with Maya Hawke where they share memes that ship Ronance (Robin and Nancy).

If that coupling was unexpected, allow me to introduce you to the section of the internet that wants to see Nancy end up with Vecna (Vecnancy).

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Before mental images start to form, back to Robin, who, like Steve, is also pining for love this season, though not for Nancy. While she appears to have chemistry with Vickie (Amybeth McNulty), Robin is understandably concerned about expressing her feelings to the wrong girl in this close-minded, Satanic Panic-fueled town. Here’s hoping she and Steve can finally find love in the future.

Eddie and Dustin

While Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Steve (Joe Keery) share fantastic on and off-screen chemistry, making their friendship one of the treasured aspects of the show, there was a new man in Dustin’s life this season as he found a close friendship with Eddie Munson.

From Eddie’s first appearance, it was clear that Dustin admired the D&D club leader, and it was fitting that they would traverse the Upside Down together.

No one can deny the pure elation that filled Dustin’s face as Eddie played his guitar. Their closeness was touching to witness and heartbreaking to watch end in tragedy. The bond they shared helped to deliver one of the more emotionally powerful moments of the season, as Dustin explained to Eddie’s uncle that his nephew died a hero.

That moment emanated love in its purest form.

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The Culmination of Love and Fear

The series does not shy away from complex emotions, and the relationship between Eleven and Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) is one of the most complicated.

On one hand, he is her “Papa”: the only father she has known for a long time in her life. At the same time, he stole her from her mother at birth and had her mother subjected to mind-frying shock treatment when she came to retrieve her daughter from the lab, his encouraging words and fatherly nature resonated with Eleven.

Even though he medicated her against her will to stop her from running off to save her friends, he did so out of the desire to protect her, although whether this was for her or his benefit is muddled.

Given that Dr. Brenner is neither inherently good nor evil, it causes Eleven’s feelings towards him to be complicated. This is why although Eleven was willing to kill him herself, his death happening in front of her amounted to a jumble of emotions, though forgiveness did not seem to be one of them.

This brand of complex emotions appeared to extend to Vecna as well, as Eleven tried to appeal to the man within the monster during their big battle scene.

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She tried to make excuses for him, blaming Dr. Brenner’s exploitation and control over Henry for the villain that he became. After all, they are both Brenner’s children, exploited and tattooed, forever bonded in history and powers. She can imagine what One must’ve felt because she had undoubtedly felt it herself.

Vecna’s ensuing response created one of my top three favorite moments of the season.

He explains to the young hero that people like him and Eleven are special and are wholly incapable of being affected by a “mediocre man” such as Brenner. He tells Eleven that he became this monster because of her. This follows a personal favorite superhero trope that heroes often are the creators of their biggest opponents.

This layered relationship displays the conjunction of fear and love, as mortal enemies Vecna and Eleven each played a part in creating the other, and more than likely are the only ones who can destroy each other.

Where Vecna explains that a mere human couldn’t possibly affect him, conversely, Eleven is very much affected by the support of others. Like Yin and Yang, one is strengthened by the fears of others, and the other finds strength in love.

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Given the certain Hell to be unleashed by the largest gate to the Upside Down that Hawkins, Indiana has ever seen, the heartache from losing characters is likely only just beginning. When Stranger Things season 5 ends, will it take fan-favorite characters with it?

“Signs point to yes”

If you crave more Hawkins while awaiting the fifth and final season, check out Stranger Things: The Experience, now available in New York, San Francisco, and London.

A writer by both passion and profession: Tiffany Taylor is a mother of three with a lifelong interest in all things strange or mysterious. Her love for the written word blossomed from her love of horror at a young age because scary stories played an integral role in her childhood. Today, when she isn’t reading, writing, or watching scary movies, Tiffany enjoys cooking, stargazing, and listening to music.

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Christmas Horror Parody ‘The Mean One’ Successfully Converts Christmas Classic ‘The Grinch’ into a Scary Story

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If Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch was too tame a Christmas-hating monster for your tastes, never fear; The Mean One is here.

How ‘The Mean One’ Wins as a Christmas Horror Movie

This comedy-horror slasher, directed by Steven LaMorte, tells the story of Cindy You-Know-Who (Krystle Martin) returning to her hometown of Newville – where her mother had been viciously murdered in front of her twenty years prior. The sheriff did not take the young girl’s claims that a monster had killed her mother seriously, so the murder remained unsolved. Cindy’s return to town shows a Newville that is wholly undecorated for Christmas, and as a string of murders begins to occur, Cindy knows her mother’s killer has returned.

With the appearance of the Mean One himself and a good balance of campiness and horror, all spread out amongst an intriguing storyline; The Mean One is a fun Christmas horror movie that subverts a beloved childhood classic and makes it its own.

The Horror-Parody Version of The Grinch

One thing the film did exceedingly well was its presentation of The Mean One. The makeup effects were stellar in creating a monster who is at the crossroads of a terrifying cryptid and a holiday icon. From his dirty Santa coat to his black snarl, he checked all the boxes for how a Christmas-hating monster should look.

Of course, to talk about the monster is also to talk about the man behind the mask, David Howard Thornton. After establishing himself as a horror icon in his role of Art the Clown in the Terrifier films, it was fun to see him transcend another role as a horror villain. With another horror flick under his belt, David Howard Thornton is one to keep an eye on. So far, every character he has been behind has been creepy and entertaining, perfectly matching the film’s tone.

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The Approach to Campy Horror

A horror film with rhyming couplets interspersed throughout could never be completely serious, and The Mean One succeeds because it doesn’t try to be. However, the film is not without its creepy moments that would be well-placed in any modern-day horror movie. Like any good scary movie, there are dramatic reveals, emotional turmoil, and suspense building.

It also injects a sense of fear into the holiday itself as it makes the idea of celebrating Christmas a dangerous thing. It’s a delicate balance to create something that is not very serious but simultaneously creepy, and the film does just that.

The Mean One Tells a Story That You Already Know in a Different Way

When making a horror film based on a traditional Christmas story, the added challenge is changing it enough to fit into the horror genre but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable. The Mean One was clearly up to the challenge as it was able to interweave a story that mimicked the traditional Dr. Seuss style of storytelling, with plotlines of a typical scary movie, while still paying homage to the source material. The integration into horror was so smooth that it felt like it should’ve been a scary story all along.

The idea of presenting the recognizable holiday monster as a cryptid is a genius move and calls to question why the Whos down in Whoville never inquired about the existence of the creature who descended from Mount Crumpit to steal their Christmas away in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

It was not only the Mean One that saw some subversion of Christmas lore. A white-haired bearded man with a red cap who seems to watch over the beginning events of the film (and is aptly named “Doc” Zeus) integrated a little bit of a real-life Santa into the storyline.

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Make no mistake; this film is not a high-budget, major Hollywood production. The blood spray effects are campy to the nth degree, and the movie is not without its flaws. But what it does well, it does very well. The Mean One’s appearance is gritty, fun, and familiar; the storyline is immediately immersive – altogether, it is an entertaining watch.

It delivers everything the premise promises: a presentation of a fun Christmas flick that we all know, but this time for horror fans.

See The Mean One for yourself in theaters on December 9th!

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RUN RUN RUDOLPH, KILLER ROBOT SANTA’S IN TOWN: ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ Review

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Seasons screamings, everyone!

I have another wonderful treat for you all, hot out the Shudder ovens. If you’re like me, that means your holiday evenings as a horror fan might be feeling a little bit empty in terms of festivity, and Christmas Bloody Christmas is here to make that right. I’m cheery about the film from the jump. Que raro!

Christmas Bloody Christmas follows what happens when an attempt to turn surplus military technology (a.k.a. killer robots) into friendly department store Santa animatronics backfires; our jolly old Saint Nick ends up painting the town redder than a candy cane’s stripes, terrorizing coworkers Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) amid their budding romance. Is the premise kind of dumb? Yes, but if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know dumb fun horror is my wheelhouse just as much as the highbrow stuff is. And just because something is silly doesn’t mean it can’t be well made.

Writer and director Joe Begos is getting my second shoutout of the year for his work. I thought the foul-mouthed dialogue of this movie sounded familiar, and that’s because he headed another Channel 83 venture I recommended for October, the 2019 vampires-on-drugs film Bliss. There are many similarities between the two directorially, though this is much more oriented for fun than the psychological nightmare Bliss was. Where Bliss was a dark game of Vampire: The Masquerade, Christmas Bloody Christmas is your classic slasher during the holiday season.

We’ve also left the Panos Kosmatos-esque territory of Bliss’s cinematography, which might be due to the influence of cinematographer Brian Sowell who previously made the film Beyond the Gates, another fun little low-budget horror flick I remember enjoying. Neon wasteland cinematography that is replete with a color palette tuned for blacklight posters and Christmas lights in every single shot, and every scene outside being caked in fake snow and decorations help the aesthetic this movie is going for feel fully realized.

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Composer Steve Moore who worked on both Mayhem and The Guest, two of my favorite action horror films, provides an impeccable score for this film of heavy synth rock with homage to some of the band’s name dropped in the film by our leads. And Josh Russell, who did makeup work for The Night House and a little horror remake you may have heard of called Hellraiser (2022), rounds out that group. The crew on this one is practically a perfect assortment of horror movie production irregulars.

Delich and Dandy have pretty good on-screen chemistry as dirtbag crustpunks who need several mouthfuls of soap scrubbed onto those tongues. Dandy in particular is a veteran of fun, romantic holiday movies, and it’s nice to see she can extend her range beyond being a forgettable Hallmark protagonist whose outfit stepped out of a JCPenney catalog. She makes for an enjoyable final girl for this.

The duo talk like their dialogue is on loan from the Hellbillies of a Rob Zombie film, but they’re believable as coworkers in a long-term “will-they-wont-they” relationship. Their exchanges are genuinely funny at points, even if they stay a bit longer than welcome. These don’t veer into trying to impress you with the character’s pretentiousness about music; they’re just two friends drunk and high on Christmas eve, talking about their flailing romantic lives and which of their bands has the best Christmas song.

Beyond characters, the meat of the film is Silent Night Deadly Night by way of The Terminator in its premise. And in its execution, it feels like a lower-grade SNDN film for how cartoonishly violent and mean the kills can get, and I mean that in the best way. A single axe swing chops a guy in half like it’s a board of wood at a kid’s karate class, several people get thrown around like ragdolls through objects, and there are plenty of fake heads and bodies getting demolished for the gore hounds in the audience. Even the robot gets severely jacked up with sparks flying and explosions.  The special effects are hammy, and I love it more for that.

But as much as I like it, this one isn’t flawless. I feel like our dear Santa could have had a stronger design, maybe with a solid mask, and played with more robotic physicality beyond what we get in the third act. The camera work can sometimes be distracting in its attempts to convey high tension, ending up feeling fidgety instead.

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And to be quite honest, I’m very torn on the films ending. While it’s very entertaining and we get to see the full depth of the crazy animatronic Santa we’ve been waiting for all film which I love, it also drags in a way that is funny for some and might be a bit grating for others. Ultimately some editing flaws are exacerbated by the film being an exceptionally tight 86 minutes (we’re talking stocking stuffed to the brim tight), so it could serve well to have a director’s cut.

BOTTOMLINE: Christmas Bloody Christmas is an over-the-top, grindhouse-y spectacular that gives you exactly what’s in the title. It isn’t your standard holiday horror fare where there’s usually more about the film to laugh at than laugh with, but it definitely isn’t humorless. It’s a solid little film that looks like it could make a reliable staple in the rotation of dumb fun holiday horror for many Christmases to come. You know, assuming you don’t get killed by a robotic Santa Claus before then.

Watch Christmas Bloody Christmas starting 12/9 on Shudder!

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