‘It’s a Wonderful Knife’ Scribe and Director on Making a ‘Pretty Queer’ Slasher and Their Horror Inspirations

“If I can put six queer characters on a movie, let’s do it,” says writer/producer Michael Kennedy

Jane Widdop in "It's a Wonderful Knife" (RLJE Films and Shudder)

The new film “It’s a Wonderful Knife,” written by Michael Kennedy (“Freaky”) and directed by Tyler MacIntyre (“Tragedy Girls;” “V/H/S/99”) falls into numerous genres: slasher, comedy, holiday and even LGBTQ+.

It’s no surprise that Kennedy and MacIntyre drew upon some obvious — and not-so-obvious — inspirations for the festive and frightening feature. TheWrap caught up with Kennedy and MacIntyre to talk all things “It’s a Wonderful Knife.”

The obvious inspiration for the film — which finds a young woman (Jane Widdop) transported to a world where she never existed on the eve of Christmas — is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” What is your connection to the classic?

Kennedy: It was a holiday staple in my family household growing up every year, and a Christmas family favorite. It was also my dad’s favorite movie; he passed away in 2018. So this movie was kind of a weird way to honor him.

MacIntyre: It was definitely in the rotation of holiday movies we watched growing up. I always liked the darker Christmas films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and my favorite is probably “Scrooged.”

How did you come up with the idea to transform “It’s a Wonderful Life” into a slasher film?

Kennedy: I always wanted to write a Christmas horror movie. And I knew I wanted it to be a slasher. I had such fun with “Freaky” and kind of dissecting something that already existed [“Freaky Friday”] in a new way. So I thought, let’s do that with Christmas.

And I immediately thought “It’s a Wonderful Life” is going to be the template. As I watched the movie a couple of times to refresh myself, I started realizing it had some support elements to it: losing your faith and no longer being part of the world. So I thought it was a really great jumping-off point, but also just a really great story to tell.

Jess McLeod and Jane Widdop in “It’s a Wonderful Knife” (RLJE Films and Shudder)

There’s so many different queer portrayals in the film. You have Jimmy (Aiden Howard), the popular high school quarterback who happens to be openly gay.

Kennedy: Jimmy was exactly who I wanted him to be. I’m gay. I was an athlete. So it’s kind of based on just me in a way. I thought it would be fun if he was the star of the football team and was kind of a cornball.

For me it was just like, they’re gay. They’re gay, too. It was just as simple as that, quite frankly. In fact, at one point when I was writing the movie, Gail Prescott (Katharine Isabelle) wasn’t gay. And it was Adam Hendricks, one of the other producers who’s a straight man, who goes, “You should make her gay, too.” And I was like, “OK!”

There was a small part of me that thought this is kind of the ultimate satirization of the lily-white straight Hallmark film. Or maybe the Candace Cameron network. These Hallmark movies are so straight and so heteronormative, I thought, let’s do the opposite.

As a queer person, if I have the ability, I’m going to do it. I was like, if I can put six queer characters on a movie, let’s do it. No one can stop me.

MacIntyre: The relationship between Winnie (Jane Widdop) and Bernie (Jess McLeod) was definitely intimate, but it was one of the things that really came out of the production of the film. [Editor’s note: Both Widdop and McLeod identify as non-binary.]

You cast performers and have them bring their natural chemistry to it. It just ended up kind of growing out of that. And I think the movie ended up being even more queer than we were expecting. The movie was pretty queer on the script level. Working with a studio that was supportive of that, we then kind of let it be what it is.

Shifting gears a bit — Gale Prescott? That’s an obvious “Scream” reference. But did Winnie also have a Drew Barrymore-esque haircut?

Kennedy: You’re not the first person to ask me this. In fact, someone asked me if Winnie is a reference to Casey Becker [Barrymore’s character in “Scream”] and Barbara Crampton in “Re-Animator.” Honestly, Jane came with that haircut.

MacIntyre: We definitely squared things up a little bit, but it wasn’t like we were holding up pictures of Drew Barrymore. But it’s fun that people are connecting it.

Speaking of “Scream,” there’s also the whole killer-in-the-movie-theater sequence.

Kennedy: Well, the pure “Scream” reference was the staircase chase in “Scream 2.” I love that movie. I’m on the record of saying it’s my favorite “Scream” movie, even over the original, and I loved the original. But for me, the theater was more about where what a quirky weird loner like Bernie finds solace, comfort and joy. And it was working at the movie theater.

So for me, it’s not so much a reference to “Scream 2.” This is where I see a person like her thriving in a world where she is called a weirdo. And in a small town, there’s not many other options either.

Check out the “It’s a Wonderful Knife” trailer below. The film is now available in theaters and it will stream on Shudder on AMC+ and everywhere you rent movies at a later date.

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