Santa's Slay (2005) **1/2
Director: David Steiman
Runtime: 1h 35m
Categories: Christmas Horror
The Santa we all know and love, “that lovable poster boy for Coca-Cola” is really the Anti-Christ: The son that Satan sired by way of the virgin Erika. So why is the biblical Beast stuck delivering presents to all the good little boys and girls and not going about with all the violence and debauchery that you’d expect of him? Well, a millennium ago the Anti-Christ lost a curling (no, I’m not kidding) match with a disguised archangel. That was in 1006 AD, and now that his thousand years punishment has finally elapsed the demon is ready to get back to wanton murder and pillaging. All this backstory, by the way, is revealed in a stop motion Claymation cartoon, done in the exact style of the boring old Christmas specials they used to air on the family channel when I was a kid, and is one of two highpoints in Santa’s Slay.
The second comes at the very beginning of the film, when a family embodying the very worst aspects of affluent America sits down to Christmas dinner. The Mason clan consists of a trio of spoiled daughters, upset that their mother has tried to fob them off with some Kate Spade rags for Christmas gifts. The eldest daughter, Gwen, fights constantly with her husband over his numerous affairs. True to form the jerk flirts with his mother-in-law right in front of the whole family, going so far as feeling her up under the table. Mom and Dad have a similar relationship, the mother mocking the father’s sexual shortcomings, while dad insults mom’s cooking. The actors have been carefully chosen for these roles: the Mom is Fran Drescher (the woman with the insufferable voice on The Nanny) and the Dad is James Caan (best known for his absurdly over-the-top death scene in The Godfather, he’ll be trying to one-up himself shortly). This bunch is easily one of the most annoying families whose presence I’ve even been forced to suffer through. The appearance of a muscle-bound, murderous Santa Claus comes as quite a relief. The ensuing murder spree adds nothing to the plot but is nonetheless extremely satisfying and well executed.
Scenes like this intro will puncture the film at regular intervals, though none will match it in terms of sheer delight. Every so often, Santa’s Slay will take a break from it’s main plot and the audience will see Santa blow a couple of bratty kids to smithereens with a booby-trapped present, or burn down the local strip club with his magical coal fireballs. These scenes revolve around noxious characters getting more or less what they deserve. If we ignore the actual plot of Santa’s Slay it’s possible to believe that Santa has not altered his core mission of rewarding the “nice” and punishing the “naughty.” The only difference is the scale of punishment that he’s willing to dole out to those who fall short of his moral standards. However, Santa’s plot critical killings reveal that he’s a danger to innocent bystanders and not just the scum of the earth.
Chief among those innocent bystanders is teenager Nicholas Yuleson (no, that’s really his name) who lives in Hell Township (again, this is really the name) with his eccentric grandfather. Gramps is well known about town for his wacky, dangerous inventions and his notorious hostility towards the Christmas season. When Nicholas returns home after a shift at Mr. Green’s deli he finds that Gramps has emerged from a weeklong inventing binge in the basement. The products of his work are a souped-up nutcracker that can send nuts flying at near escape velocity, and a bunker in which he intends to ride out the whole of the holiday season in. The latter is too much even for Nicholas, who sees it as a sign that his grandfather is finally transitioning from harmless eccentric to full-blown loony. As a way of explaining to his skeptical grandson, Gramps produces an ancient, handwritten tomb called “The Book of Claws.” The book explains Santa’s origin as the spawn of the devil, and Christmas’ true origin as a night of fear and terror where people mysteriously disappeared or died horribly at the hands of Santa.
The sudden arrival of Mac, Nicholas’ attractive, gun-nut coworker at Green’s deli, interrupts the exposition dump. Unbeknownst to the clueless Nicholas, Mac has a big crush on him, and has come with some Christmas presents to win him over. For Gramps, she’s brought along some wolverine meat, from one of her father’s latest kills, and for Nicholas she brings what at first appears to be a handgun but what is quickly revealed to be a transformer. I would avoid buying that particular model for your kids, and if you do, please discourage them from bringing it to class. It looks like everything is going well for Mac and Nicholas, but somehow Nicholas manages to shoot himself in a foot. An offhanded comment from Mac calling grandpa a little eccentric sends Nicholas into a fury, Mac storms off and Nicholas is left to finish up the backstory of our evil Santa Claus.
The next day, Christmas morning, Santa turns up at Mr. Green’s deli and starts a fight. For a schlubby middle aged guy Mr. Green holds his, managing to put up more resistance to the demonic Holiday mascot than a pair of bouncers and the entire police force combined. In the end, Santa gains the upper hand and impales Mr. Green with a menorah, leaving his limp body hanging from the wall. Nicholas hears about the attack over the police scanner at a local gas station where he stopped in for a pointless conversation with the hulking man who runs the joint. Nicholas rushes over to the shop in time to catch Mr. Green’s last words: “There is a Santa Claus.” He gasps in disbelief. This and grandpa’s book are enough to convince Nicholas that a murderous, demonic Santa really is on the loose. It’s always refreshing to see a horror movie protagonist who doesn’t spend the whole second act languishing in ill-advised skepticism. The police, who arrive shortly after him, think he’s nuts and haul him into the station for questioning. Captain Cauk (whose name should draw laughs from all the grade-schoolers who snuck into the audience) thinks Nicholas is turning just as nuts as his grandfather, but he doesn’t think the boy killed Mr. Green so he cuts him loose. Nicholas calls Mac for a ride and the two set off. Just after they leave the station Santa arrives and kills every officer in the joint before heading out to chase down Nicholas and Mac.
The demon that murdered Hell Township’s entire police force proves no match for two spunky teenagers armed with a pickup truck and a hunting rifle. They make it back to Nicholas’ house and join gramps in his bunker. Santa follows, hot on their heels in a sleigh that resembles nothing no much as a viking warship pulled by a team of quadrupeds way too bulky to be normal reindeer (they look more like oxen). Gramps’ bunker is pretty tough, but all the reinforced door can do is slow down Santa for a few minutes while he bashes it in. This is just enough time for the trio to escape out of a secret passage into the garage where Gramps has a couple of snowmobiles standing by. Remember though, this is a horror movie, and naturally Mac cannot get her snowmobile started right away. The delay is long enough that Santa catches up with them, forcing Gramps to sacrifice himself so the two kids can make good on their escape. They flee by snowmobile through the town, while an airborne Santa pursues them, chucking exploding presents out of his sleigh (Sentences like this are a big reason why I even bother to write these kinds of reviews).
Nicholas figures that Santa’s massacre can only last as long as Christmas, and since Santa lives on the North Pole he must be following Greenwich Mean Time. So, he and Mac only have to evade the killer Coca-Cola mascot until seven when Christmas will end. To buy time, they ditch the snowmobiles and take shelter in the local high school. The pair hides in the school’s skating rink (the existence of which, combined with the near-universal gun ownership in town and the general bleak landscape leads me to believe this film takes place either in the northern reaches of the Western US or the Canadian province of Alberta, AKA Canada’s Texas), where they finally confess their mutual affection. The young lovers make out just long enough for Santa to catch up with them and try to run them down with a Zamboni. It’s at this point that Santa’s Slay gets really silly.
You see, Gramps wasn’t just a regular old codger; he was actually an angel, the same angel who beat Santa in a curling match a millennium ago. Gramps gave up his immortality for the love of a mortal woman, but now that Santa has sent him back up to heaven he can return to earth with his heavenly glow and angelic powers. Amazingly, Santa agrees to another curling match with the angel, only this time he raises the stakes: if he looses he will be the jolly present distributing mascot we all know indefinitely, and if he wins Gramps will be condemned to hellish torments for all eternity. Less amazingly, Santa cheats when it becomes obvious that Gramps is going to win again; tossing the old man into the portal to hell he’s opened up. Some quick work from Nicholas and Mac (using the overpower nutcracker from before) saves the old man from the pit. Unfortunately, the man upstairs interferes and Gramps has to return to heaven, leaving the kids to solve the problem of Santa by themselves. Fortunately, Mac’s extended family is not far off conducting their traditional Christmas day skeet shoot. Among them is Mac’s father, who has just received a bazooka as a Christmas present. The demonic-Santa doesn’t stand a chance.
Santa’s Slay belongs to the genre of Horror Comedies, which are occasionally delightful but usually absolutely wretched. For every Brain Dead or Army of Darkness there are scores of god-awful wannabes that are rarely funny and never scary. Santa’s Slay bucks the trend by being sparsely populated with genuinely funny scenes. The opening sequence, in which Santa massacres a roomful of the most obnoxious bourgeoisie stereotypes ever assembled, is a joy. The gag runs thin after repeated occurrences, all less artfully rendered than the initial shocker, but never grows outright obnoxious. For the most part the humor is on a level that will amuse middle school kids while leaving anyone over the age of eighteen cold. Nonetheless I appreciate a horror film that promptly massacres its most annoying characters, rather than subjecting the audience to untold minutes of their antics. The film is more successful in the creation of gruesome yet comical violence than it is with any verbal gags. Santa Claus routinely uses holiday paraphernalia as weapons, killing people with candy canes, Christmas lights and exploding presents; all while face-paced Christmas music plays in the background. And any movie that depicts the ultimate battle of good vs. evil as a curling match between a glowing old man and a professional wrestler in a Santa costume can’t be completely humorless.
Much of Santa’s Slay feels like utterly pointless padding. As I mentioned above Nicholas stops into a gas station on Christmas day to buy a pack of gum when he has a long and rather pointless conversation with the attendant. The scene stretches out aimlessly and goes nowhere until it is terminated by the police radio scanner. The subplot about the crooked preacher (which I didn’t bother to mention in my summary) also adds nothing to the film’s plot, but at least has the virtue of being modestly amusing. The bulk of Santa’s murders also have little bearing on the rest of the storyline, but as they constitute most of the film’s questionable charm they have to be at least tolerated. All in all Santa’s slay feels like a much shorter film which has been bulked up with a great deal of unnecessary filler.