For most movie fans, Mary Lambert is primarily known for her extensive work in the horror genre. 

 

The director, who was born in Helena, Arkansas, and raised in Phillips County, has overseen the likes of “Pet Sematary,” its sequel, “The Attic,” and episodes of “The Dark Path Chronicles” and “Tales From The Crypt.” 

 

In recent years, though, the filmmaker has moved into more festive territory. After the success of their 2021 Christmas romantic-comedy, “A Castle For Christmas,” Netflix immediately asked Lambert back to direct “Best. Christmas. Ever!,” which hits the streaming service on Thursday, Nov. 16. 

 

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Lambert joked over the phone with AY About You. “If you do a successful horror movie, you’re usually asked back to do another horror movie. It’s the same with Christmas movies. The general belief is that you can wave the magic wand a second time. I hope that’s true with ‘Best. Christmas. Ever!’”

 

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Best. Christmas. Ever! (L to R) Brandy Norwood as Jackie, Madison Validum as Beatrix, Heather Graham as Charlotte in Best. Christmas. Ever! Cr. Scott Everett White/Netflix © 2023.

 

Lambert had an all-star cast at her disposal to try and ensure that “Best. Christmas. Ever!” matches the success of “A Castle For Christmas.” The film stars Heather Graham and Brandy as old college friends Charlotte Sanders and Jackie Jennings. Every year, Jackie sends Charlotte a newsletter boasting about her family’s successes. When fate brings Charlotte to Jackie’s doorstep, she tries to prove that her life is not perfect. As well as Graham and Brandy, the comedy also stars Jason Biggs and Matt Cedeño, while the script was co-written by Charles Shyer – known for “Private Benjamin,” “Father Of The Bride” and “The Parent Trap.”

 

Lambert was delighted with how each of the acting quartet was able to bring their unique styles together to form an ensemble. “There was a lot of team spirit on this and everybody supported everyone else. They were able to explore the characters and find out who they were using their own talent and experiences.”

 

When it comes to specifically what they brought to “Best. Christmas. Ever!,” Lambert praises Graham’s preparation and flexibility, Biggs’ innate comedic timing, and Cedeño’s ability to be both sexy and vulnerable. For Brandy, though, Lambert was particularly astounded by her “amazing presence” and singing performances, which she compared to some of the biggest names in music history. 

 

“I’ve worked with a lot really great performers. Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Annie Lennox and Madonna. They have that sort of presence, where they can hold the attention of a stadium with their voice, their presence and the story and narrative they’re creating on stage. Brandy has that. When she walks on the set, she just envelops you in it.”

 

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Best. Christmas. Ever! (L to R) Heather Graham as Charlotte, Brandy Norwood as Jackie, Madison Validum as Beatrix in Best. Christmas. Ever! Cr. Scott Everett White/Netflix © 2023.

 

Lambert worked with these performers after establishing herself as one of the world’s most in-demand music video directors in the mid-1980s. She oversaw the videos to Madonna’s “Like A Virgin,” “Material Girl” and “Like A Prayer,” as well Chris Isaak’s “Dancin'” and Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” and “Control.” 

 

“I started making music videos almost by accident. I always thought of them as short films.” After falling in love with movies in Arkansas, where three of her siblings, several cousins and many of her friends still live, it wasn’t until she attended the renowned Rhode Island School Of Design (RISD) that she realized that filmmaking could actually become her career.

 

“I always saw myself as a painter. But when I got to RISD, I saw that being an artist didn’t just mean being a painter. I could be a musician or filmmaker or whatever way I could find to express myself.” After getting hold of a camera, Lambert decided that she wanted to make “avant garde and nonlinear films” rather than direct “soap operas or melodramas” once she’d finished her studies. 

 

“You couldn’t go into a studio and say you wanted to make a film like that. But with music videos, there was a freedom because nobody knew what they were doing and my first focus was on telling stories that were imaginative and nonlinear.”

 

It was the success of these music videos that resulted in Lambert being offered feature films. After overseeing her debut film “Siesta,” starring Ellen Barkin, Jodie Foster, Gabriel Byrne, Isabella Rossellini, Martin Sheen and Grace Jones, Paramount surprisingly offered her the chance to adapt Stephen King’s novel, “Pet Sematary.” She nearly turned it down, too.

 

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“I didn’t think of myself as a horror director, but I loved Stephen King. Especially how his stories are very interior, and about the life of the protagonist, and how it manifests itself in a supernatural or evil way. That was really down my alley.” 

 

“Pet Sematary” grossed over five times its $11.5 million budget, and set Lambert off on a career that has not only included a dozen more feature films, but work on television movies, television shows, documentaries, short films and even a video game. Lambert reflects that she sometimes thinks “she shot [herself] in the foot by skipping between genres.” 

 

But, nearly 40 years after making her debut as a music video director, “Best. Christmas. Ever!” once again highlights her resilience and versatility as a filmmaker, and how she’s able to funnel this energy into her work, no matter the genre. 

 

“It’s important to believe in yourself and believe that anything is possible. That’s the message of the movie. It’s about finding something that gives you joy and spreading that joy. That’s what I hope people take away from the film; the joy of belief in themselves and for the people they love.”

 

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