In writer-director Craig Anderson's "Red Christmas," 1980s scream queen Dee Wallace ("Cujo," "The Howling") is even better as the uncommonly soulful Diane, matriarch of a large family gathering at its Australian estate for the holidays.
It helps that the star is given a lot to play. Anderson takes a fairly standard slasher premise — in which a robed, bandaged, ax-wielding maniac named Cletus (Sam Campbell) shows up at the house unexpectedly and begins picking off the inhabitants one by one — and gives it a social context designed to make nearly every moment uncomfortable to watch.
Specifically, Anderson delves straight into the sensitive issue of abortion. Cletus insists that he's the long-lost product of a pregnancy that Diane had thought she'd terminated (though she was unconscious at the time and isn't sure). As he slaughters her other children, Cletus forces Diane to confront her choices in front of her kids: one of whom is pregnant, one of whom is a religious conservative, and one of whom has Down syndrome.
"Red Christmas" doesn't have any specific political point of view; it's fraught with contradictions, and should make anyone squeamish. Mostly, it's a tightly constructed, unapologetically nasty little thriller, given depth and weight by Wallace's interpretation of a sweet woman suffering for her past.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills