By Jake Rutkowski.
Anxiety over parenthood has long been fertile ground for the horror film tradition. Frankenstein (1931), one of the first explicit entries of the genre in film (and literature for that matter), was a real-life Mary Shelley pregnancy nightmare turned fiction classic. Then there’s films like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976), which turn the sanctity of parenting on its head, Alien (1979), which finds body horror in the physicality of pregnancy, and more recent entries like The Ring (2002) and The Babadook (2014), which temper raw scares with the more melancholic aspects of raising a child. While this current would seem to flow through the choppier waters of the abortion debate, few have tried to channel those rising tensions into the genre.
You picked one hell of a topic for a feature debut. Why a horror film centered on the abortion debate?
Horror likes to deal with taboos, at least it thinks it does. What it really does is deal with taboos that are socially acceptable. The same way comedy can deal with acceptable “taboos,” both genres usually end up “titillating” more than actually confronting issues. I was inspired to tackle a topic that was loaded.
What did you read and watch to get ready for this film? I imagine quite a bit (I see you included sort of a Works Cited/Further Reading section in the closing credits).
I was inspired by Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire, an excellent documentary about reproductive rights that attempts to look at many sides of the debate and suggest a non-binary argument. I read lots of academia on the subject as well as women’s stories that were as varied as inter-sectional feminists to right-wing abortion survivors.
To that point, a question on influence: how (if at all) would you say this film is tied to the Ozploitation tradition (films like The Cars That Ate Paris, and those in the Mad Max series, for example)?
I guess the environment and colloquialisms are present, and I did sacrifice a stereotypical Australian farmer early in. But I feel like the film is closer to the US and Italian horror films of the 70’s. Not that there is anything wrong with the Ozploitation medium, but it often investigates themes in a very simplistic or straight-forward fashion.
You’ve got a very memorable character here in the “visitor,” Cletus. How was Cletus conceived, so to speak? How did you arrive at a way to portray him, was his character influenced by anything in particular, etc?
The Elephant Man is a good starting point. I feel like the character in Lynch’s film garners a lot of sympathy and audiences wouldn’t mind if he fought back. In a way, Cletus represents the fantasy of a right-wing teenager who feels like they’ve been hard done by. Horror often panders to that “fighting back against the cool kids” ethos.
How did you come to work with producer and star Dee Wallace?
I’m lucky that the script attracted attention from so many great women who are known for their work in horror films from the 70’s & 80’s. Some of them never really got to develop their performance skills beyond the “final girl,” but Dee is a prolific working actor who has proven her extraordinary ability on dozens of occasions. She read the script and agreed to fly to Australia to be in it. Off the back of that, I asked her to come on as a producer, as the few phone calls I had with her helped me shape the script and financing plan.
What’s your hope in presenting a film like this to an American audience?
I hope that American audiences can see themselves in it, and that people who enjoy reading film, look for the multi-strand viewpoints on the abortion debate. I know that in creating Cletus, the film inherently becomes a pro-life statement, in a sense. But I hope that some people can read it from Dee’s character’s point of view, a woman who’s medical procedure is interrupted by a right-wing terrorist and that act goes on to destroy her family.
Also in answer to which side the film is on, I always give the same response: the film is a tragedy about two people who fail to communicate and let their pre-existing beliefs destroy them.
Red Christmas will be released by Artsploitation Films in the US on 17 Oct 2017.
Jake Rutkowski holds an MA in English from Rutgers University in Camden, where he studied genre semantics and the African-American hero in western films of the 1970s. He helps program the Reel East Film Festival, and regularly covers film at Identity Theory and Cutting to Continuity.