IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is the Uplifting Slasher Movie of the Holiday Season

IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is the Uplifting Slasher Movie of the Holiday Season

Movies

The Holiday Film had been dominated by drama and comedy for decades before two other genres entered the fray. Had Hallmark not intercepted the ball and run it in for infinity touchdowns, the Holiday Horror Film might’ve become the most popular and prolific type of Holiday film on the landscape. Tragically, we know that’s not the case. 

 

But recently the Holiday Horror film has come back swinging. Damien Leone’s TERRIFIER 3 will be a holiday holocaust next year, and this year we have the imaginative and fun IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE from co-producer/writer Michael Kennedy (FREAKY) and director Tyler McIntyre (TRAGEDY GIRLS). Starring horror stalwarts Justin Long (BARBARIAN, JEEPERS CREEPERS) and Katharine Isabell (GINGER SNAPS, FREDDY vs JASON) as well as newcomers Jane Widdop (Showtime’s “YELLOWJACKETS”), Jess McLeod (Peacock’s “ONE OF US IS LYING”), Hana Huggins (CW’s “THE FLASH”), and the ubiquitous Joel McHale (COMMUNITY, BECKY), KNIFE presents itself as “an Uplifting Slasher Movie.”

 

In IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE, a year after saving her town from a psychotic killer on Christmas Eve, Winnie Carruthers’ life is less than wonderful — but when she wishes she’d never been born, she finds herself in a nightmare parallel universe and discovers that without her, things could be much, much worse. Now the killer is back, and she must team up with the town misfit to identify the killer and get back to her own reality. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE by way of SCREAM.

 

IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is a crowd-pleaser – fun, familiar, fresh, and festive. I watched the movie with several friends and we had enough spirit, spirits, and popcorn to make the event a night to remember. We would shout out lines before they were said, take bets on the next victims, identify the killer, and scream at the protagonists like it was a midnight showing. The movie has enough IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE in its DNA to be heartwarmingly nostalgic and enough SCREAM to be just the right amount of predictable yet still surprising. It doesn’t reinvent the holiday drama or the slasher film, but rather amalgamates the two into one that is equally funny, warm, and jarring. 

 

As a holiday film, the characters throughout have a fabricated yuletide glow to them, but Michael Kennedy’s characterization and the team’s dedication to inclusive, representative casting allows a wide audience to see themselves in the film. As an “Uplifting Slasher Movie” you’re going to get a happy ending, but I was surprised to see that it wasn’t as happy as it could’ve been. When you’re playing with concepts like wishes and alternate realities, you have the opportunity to go back to before the story began and wipe away established backstories that some characters carry around like emotional luggage but Kennedy chose not to go that far. It’s a slight bit of restraint that bars the film from steering too far into the saccharine-infested waters of LifeTime movie territory and keeping that bit of rust on its proceedings that make the film relatable. Even with a wish granted, one can only resolve so much. Some scars never fade, but we can choose to wear them with remembrance and pride.

 

I chatted with director Tyler McIntyre and writer/co-producer Michael Kennedy last week to discuss the film, casting Justin Long and Joel McHale against type, and their dream double feature for Christmas Eve. (Mild Spoilers Ahead)


EM – Let’s start with Tyler. So we’re talking about IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE. Tell me your elevator pitch for this movie.

 

TM – Yeah, so I think I zoomed into the idea of making an Uplifting Slasher Movie, which is really what it is on the page. I really saw this as a battle between Warm and Cool. Like the Christmas colors are always these saturated reds and golds and it wraps you up in this family warmth, but then I really thought the kind of two worlds element that’s baked into the script was kind of the main engine of my pitch. I really wanted the nightmare version of this world to be really scuzzy with gross snow and very cool tones, and you kind of sap that energy out of it, even though you’re seeing the same spaces, and in a lot of cases even the same actors doing sort of the same things, it has this whole different vibe to it. It was this kind of strategy that you could sew into the cinematography and production design and the costumes and the performances, it was kind of this cool opportunity to create these two different worlds with these very different energies. That’s what I was trying to get across within the wrapper of Mike’s conceit to make an Uplifting Slasher Movie which is something you don’t really see enough of. 

 

EM – I will agree with that. Michael, I watched the movie and then immediately afterward went back and watched FREAKY, which had been on my list though I hadn’t seen it yet. So I want to know, where does your love of secret handshakes come from?

 

MK – [laughs] You know, what’s really funny is that both of those were designed by the actors on their own. Tyler, correct me if I’m wrong but I had no idea that was going to happen [Winnie and Cara share a secret handshake] in the car on KNIFE, so when they did it I laughed because in my head I could immediately see a critic or somebody on the Internet saying “Why does he always write handshakes into his movies?” Then on FREAKY, that was Vince Vaughn. That day that we were shooting that handshake, he and Misha [Osherovich] and Celeste [O’ Connor], they were gabbing in the corner by themselves, and came up with it but didn’t tell anybody and then did it on camera. So both times it’s been kind of a happy accident. It was fun on FREAKY watching Celeste and Misha have to teach that exact same handshake to Kathryn Newton, to tie them together, and it was such a great touch on Vince and Chris’ [Christopher Landon, director of FREAKY] part to put that in. We didn’t have that in the script, either; the way they [originally] found out mostly was through dialogue like “What’s your favorite movie and what’s this and that?” but then when Vince says “Shake, bitches!” the whole set was like “What??” It was really great. And then Jane [Widdop] and Hana [Huggins], they – did they work with you on that, Tyler? Did you know that was coming?

 

TM – Yeah, Jane and Hana, they worked it out beforehand and we’d had things worked into the scene, like tapping on the window, which I thought was cute and then [the handshake] continued that rhythm which ended up being a cute little moment. They didn’t do it every time, maybe just the first couple of takes, but they went really smoothly so we ended up using it, but yeah, they figured it all out by themselves. When you get a young cast excited to do stuff like that, to run with an instinct, you’ve got to let them help you make the movie better.

 

EM – Yeah, it gives them ownership, too, so they’re more invested.

 

TM – Absolutely.

 

EM – Now, Michael, the rampant drugs in the branched timeline: I watched the movie with a few friends and we were taken aback, like “Is everyone doing meth? Did the mayor distribute meth to the town?” It has that classic Saturday morning Very Special Episode cautionary tale feel to it. Is that what you were going for?

 

MK – Honestly, I was going for what would be the weirdest and funniest and the dude getting kicked in the nuts was just a silly, dumb thing. We were trying to figure out a way in the script to just make it weird. BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II came up quite a bit in the planning stages-

 

EM – Yes, very much so.

 

MK – I was just trying to make it a wink to – just having the Angel be the killer was a bit of a visual middle finger to like Crazy Christian People who are always crying about the “War on Christmas” so to make an Angel the killer or to have the drugs, for me, was a bit of that, too, like “Oh, when we think of the children, the worst thing we can think of is them doing drugs.” We actually had to cut out this moment in the movie because of foreign markets – for some reason you can’t really say “drugs”

 

TM – Meth is one of their buttons. I don’t know.

 

MK – Yeah, meth can’t be spoken for some reason in some foreign territories. And there was this really funny sequence where Minnie asks “What’s in the pipe?” and one of the kids just matter-of-factly goes “Meth. We all do meth, now.”

 

TM – Yeah, of all things we had to work on tweaking that’s one of my big regrets. We did a test screening where that killed and I was, “Agh!”

 

MK – Yeah, so for me it was just “what’s hilarious and visual that you can get across in two seconds?”

 

TM – Yeah, you just want to get more meth into movies, as a general rule.

 

MK – If you have meth, then you can write “Santa Sucks Balls” on the wall, too. [laughs]

 

EM – Just your list of dream scenarios. Speaking of dreams coming true, Tyler, tell me about bringing this dream cast together.

Jane Widdop as Winnie

TM – It was a bit of a process, took a few months to come together. For me, it was trying to figure out the dynamics of that younger ensemble, and fortunately we got very lucky that we auditioned Jane [Widdop] very early; I’d seen them in YELLOWJACKETS and kind of had them on a list of younger performers that I was interested in working with and they just crushed a read of one of the scenes where they first arrive in the alternate universe and really seemed to get the tone of it. Then we had a good meeting and decided to kind of build the younger cast around them. Joel McHale came in pretty early, kind of showing different colors than he normally does. He’s often more of a smartass and has more of a comedic assumption, but we were like “No no, we’re going to play you like a Hallmark dad.” And he seemed to respond to trying to do that, and he has some dramatic material later on in the film that he could really sink his teeth into, so there were some fun ways to play against type, a little bit. Similarly for Justin [Long], he’s been playing a guy in his late-20s for over twenty years just because he has this very young-feeling energy to him, and we liked the idea of playing him a little more like that scuzzy, Michael Douglas from WALL STREET-kind of energy, you know? He has a bit of a small-town-huckster quality to him, and he brought in a bit more of a preacher quality to him, also. He came in with a ton of ideas, like the look, with the spray tan and wig and the artificial teeth, and the high voice, so we ran towards that. For me, it was about trying to shape that performance and beyond that trying to find, [the character of] Bernie Simon was probably the most difficult, then we eventually landed on Jess McLeod and they brought just the right amount of eccentricity to it, which was very hard to find. Like someone who just legitimately has a strange energy about them but then also has this great chemistry with Jane and that really reshaped how the arc of the whole movie went, you know? Then beyond that we tried to get Katie [Katharine] Isabelle in there, who’s a great Vancouver local and a legend in the horror space, and who I’ve been in love with since GINGER SNAPS, so it was great to get her in there. Then William B Davis who is obviously a legend from THE X-FILES {The Smoking Man), and we were able to fill out the cast with some great Vancouver actors and we got very lucky.

 

EM – Yeah, I did notice towards the end of the film that it pivots from being Winnie’s story to Bernie’s story and the moment that Winnie realizes that on the couch, on the morning of Christmas. Michael, tell me about that, about that tonal shift.

Bernie (Jess McLeod) and Winnie (Jane Widdop)

MK – Yeah, for me it’s definitely by design, because if you’re doing a film called IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE people are going to have expectations and it’s a great opportunity to upend what you’re going to expect. For me, I always, from the beginning, from the moment I created the character of Bernie, I knew I wanted this moment where not only does the audience realize it but our main character realizes that she actually just went through what she thought was her story but it was really Bernie’s story, in that Bernie is really the lead of the movie, in a way. They’re co-leads; it’s their stories together and I knew I wanted that from the beginning. That’s why I reference George Bailey and Clarence [the Angel] a couple of times is if people are aware of that then they immediately A) really understand what I’m talking about and it’s such an advantage to have that and B) also make them feel comfortable with what they’re seeing and then get the characters and the audience to realize at the same time “Oh shit, I wasn’t the George – you were!” Or “I wasn’t the Clarence – you were!” I think it’s such a great moment and on the page I really like the way it read but then Jess [McLeod] just really sold the shit out of it. They’re so good and they’re so talented and there is such depth with them that I’ve been told people have cried during the movie because of them and you know that’s super crazy when you think about that in a slasher movie. So, yeah, it really was the plan and I’m glad that people are buying into what I was doing and what Tyler was doing.

 

EM – Yeah. So, Tyler, you said that this was a “feel-good slasher.” What do you think would be the companion piece to this?

 

TM – Well, to be honest, I’m really hoping people will do the Life/Knife double feature. Personally, I’m going to do that with my mother on Christmas Eve this year.

 

MK – Oh, that’s so fun.

 

TM – If you’re looking for a good double feature I’d think BETTER WATCH OUT is a good Christmas horror/comedy from the last couple of years that I’m a big fan of that I think would also pair really well.

 

EM – Nice. Okay, so Michael, we did FREAKY FRIDAY, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. What’s next?

 

MK – The next one is another slasher movie, I love my slasher movies. It’s not so much a take on a specific movie but an entire genre, and I don’t want to say more than that before it’s announced, because I don’t want to give it away. [laughs]

 

EM – Alright, fair. Can I ask Tyler if he’s involved? Are you going to pair up again?

 

MK – Actually, I wrote this one with Christopher Landon [co-writer and director of FREAKY].

 

EM – So, IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is such a beloved holiday classic. It’s one of the ones they play all day long on one of the channels and the other one is A CHRISTMAS STORY, I think. 

 

MK – As of twenty years ago it was on like thirty channels with different start times so you could go to one channel and say “Oh, it’s the end” then flip to another, “Oh, here’s the beginning.”

 

EM – Do you guys want to see IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE take that spot in twenty years?

 

MK – Uh, yeah! [laughs] One hundred percent. I just hope people watch it, that’s all.

 

EM – Nice. Tyler, what are you working on next?

 

TM – I’m working on a kids horror movie for Paramount. That’s what I’ve got going on.

 

MK – Oh, fun! That’s right!

 

EM – Well, that’s all the questions I have. Anything else either of you want to add or special shout outs to the production crew or process that will give people extra insight into the film?

 

MK – I personally want to shout out Tyler, Matea [Pasarić], and Tiana [P. Gordon] who came up with the look of our villain which was super cool.

 

EM – Yeah, very cool. Very good villain design. That’s what propels most slashers: you’ve gotta get behind the villain.

 

MK – Yeah, we haven’t had a head-to-toe villain in a long time which is really cool and the blade is really cool and stuff so they did a wonderful job.  

The Angel

TM – Yeah, Matea who is our costume designer and Tiana who is our production designer, both local Vancouver people, really really got it and made these things, because I’m always like “Yeah, it should look like this” and then they have to go and, like, figure it out.

 

MK – Hire them, people.

 

TM – Yeah, they crushed it, and they’re both super young, too. I don’t think people understand how young the crew was on this. A lot of people in their early twenties, a lot of heads of departments, but they all just hauled ass for us. 

 

MK – Tiana is like 24, I had no idea. 

 

TM – Yeah,I know. It’s crazy.

 

MK – They carry themselves like professionals, and I think it was their first feature.

 

TM – First or second feature as a production designer, so new but not green. Definitely understood what was going on and served the story.

 

EM – Nice, so bright futures ahead for that crew! Well guys, thanks so much for chatting with me today. I love the movie, I think it’s gonna do great. You guys should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished. Take care and best of luck.

 

MK – Thank you! Nice to meet you!

 

TM – Nice meeting you!



IT’S A WONDERFUL KNIFE is produced by SHUDDER network and RLJE films and released to theaters on November 10th, after which it will stream on SHUDDER and AMC+. Check it out and make it part of your holiday tradition going forward.

 

Until next time, merry November!

-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-
me

 

 

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