The new film It’s a Wonderful Knife starts out by employing the kinds of bright story beats and cheery visual language that would have categorized the title among comfortable Christmas movie classics and the regular offerings of holidays stories on something like the Hallmark Channel.
But when people begin dying graphically and horrifically, we quickly realize this is something else entirely. And for those behind the film, leaning into that jarring contrast was entirely intentional in the effort to create something fresh and original.
“We knew we had this distinct advantage in a movie that not a lot of slasher movies have. Because we’re taking existing things and going—ha ha ha, not so familiar! You know?” Michael Kennedy, writer behind the film, explained.
As its title would imply, It’s a Wonderful Knife can be described as a horror re-imagining of the 1946 Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. In that older story protagonist George Bailey, a business man struggling to stay afloat of his life’s obstacles, wishes he had never been born. He is then granted this wish, only to realize how much worse things are without him.
The new film’s protagonist, Winnie Carruthers, has a similar wish one night. However, what’s new when her wish is granted is not only that the lives of everyone she loves are worse, but also that a masked killer she had stopped before is in this new timeline still at large.
The film sits within a growing sub-genre of familiar stories re-imagined as slasher movies. Most prominent of these may be 2017’s Happy Death Day by director Christopher Landon, which took inspiration from 1993’s Groundhog Day. From there, screenwriter Michael Kennedy teamed with Christopher Landon for 2020’s Freaky. In this intriguing reimagining of the familiar Freaky Friday story, this time the killer and the protagonist switch bodies.
So it was after finishing things on Freaky that Kennedy, stuck in the COVID lockdowns of a few years back, remembered fondly his experiences on that film and wondered how else he could tell a story in this style. He knew he wanted to tell a somewhat happier and more positive story given the bleak present of the real world, and also that he wanted his next project to sit in the Christmas space.
And all that led to a Christmas slasher movie that is in no way shy about its gore, violence, and other mature imagery. But a story which, at the same time, aims to be heartwarming and uplifting by its resolution.
“I had someone tell us it’s like the most wholesome slasher movie they’ve ever seen. And I actually take that as a really big compliment,” Kennedy said.
With the project freely playing with the conventions of many genres, the experience of watching the film can be frequently surprising as it hops between styles. But director Tyler MacIntyre, who describes himself as having grown up off of the horror comedies of his childhood, sees the genres as more complementary than people might expect.
“I definitely think of horror and comedy as like two sides of the same coin, you know? They’re both grounded in misdirection. Like you’re building to a scare moment, or building to somewhere, and then all of a sudden you take it somewhere else, and that’s a joke, you know? And they’re kind of palate cleansers for each other,” MacIntyre said.
MacIntyre explains that in building the visuals of the town seen on screen, especially in the primary timeline, he did want to trade in the language of wholesome Christmas films such as Miracle on 34th Street and Home Alone. But at the same he wanted to use the expectations around those conventions to make unexpected turns, ultimately strengthening both the horror and the comedy. As he says, while the beginning of the film’s town does feel like a Hallmark movie, the alternate timeline’s setting deliberately looks like a Hallmark movie that threw up.
“And that’s part of the fun of this. You get to juxtapose that really uplifting, cheery Christmas energy with the horrific stuff. And it creates a lot of fun,” MacIntyre said.
With Kennedy having worked on two slasher re-imaginings now, it may be worth wondering if he has plans to do this sort of thing again anytime soon. And when asked he did say he has another project in the works that upends a genre, but not quite in the same mashup way as before. His work on this project though, like with Freaky, is again in collaboration with Christopher Landon.
It’s a Wonderful Knife is now playing in theaters. The film stars Jane Widdop, Joel McHale, and Justin Long.