The winter holidays are hard enough for horror fans, with all that peace and joy floating around like so much sugar plum fairy dust. It is the time for pretentious award-winning films, usually heartwarming dramas about dysfunctional families or extraordinary animals.
Surely there must be some movie that the fear-loving family can watch together and still have some semblance of Christmas spirit? And while my first thought is ‘The Polar Express,’ that’s just because I’m terrified of Tom Hanks. Seeing thousands of animated Tom Hankses prancing about a golden train serving hot chocolate to creepy, chubby, motion-captured children is enough to set me to shivering.
Let me gently direct you, then, to the slick piece of weirdness known as ‘Santa’s Slay,’ a wonderfully off-kilter look at Father Christmas. There’s enough feel-good sentimentality to keep the Christmas lovers happy while the gore-hounds can delight to the sight of Fran Drescher with her hair on fire. Actually, there are probably lots of seemingly normal people who would like to see Fran Drescher with her hair on fire.
About 1,000 years ago, Christmas was much different than it is now. It used to be known as “The Day of Slaying,” and it was the day when the son of Satan roamed the Earth, killing everyone he came into contact with. One year, the hellspawn was challenged to a curling competition by an angel. Satan-Boy loses and has to keep up his end of the bet: for 1,000 years, he has to be Santa Claus, spreading joy and love, giving presents to all the good boys and girls, the whole shebang. Well, the 1,000 years is over, and Santa has some pent-up rage he wants to let out. He flies his sleigh into the charming burg of Hell’s Township and begins his rampage of blood.
Going against Evil Santa is teenager Nicholas Yuleson (Douglas Smith), his bordering-on-dementia grandfather (Robert Culp), and the girl Nicholas is too shy to ask out (Emilie de Ravin). Grandfather seems to know everything about Christmas, to the point of possessing the ancient “Book of Claus,” a kind of Santa-nomicon that explains why Santa has stopped being jolly and started being stabby.
‘Santa’s Slay’ is not one of those dark Christmas movies like ‘SInt’ or the previously-Throwback-ed ‘Rare Exports.’ It’s bright and colorful, like the holiday itself, which only adds to the fun. The movie is instantly engaging, with a bloody and funny prologue that sets the rest of the movie up beautifully. After that, it just rolls like a snowball going downhill, fast-paced and crazy. The cast is likable, but watching professional wrestler Bill Goldberg as the homicidal Santa is sheer pleasure. He’s obviously having fun, relishing the heel turn he never had when he was wrestling, and it’s fun to watch him cheese his way through the part.
It’s kind of hard to talk about any “realism” aspects of the film when the main character of a movie is someone we’ve been told doesn’t exist since we were children. And all the traditional Christmas trimmings are present in ‘Santa’s Slay,’ from the flying reindeer to the lumps of coal. The whole thing lives or dies on the strength of the cast and how well they get the whole concept over. I looked at the movie with the eyes of my twisted inner child. It worked for me.
This movie is inherently ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean it is stupid. The script is fairly intelligent, poking fun at the old-school horror trope of terror coming to a small town and no one believes it but the youngsters. Sly references to famous action movies – like ‘The Terminator,’ just to name one – abound. So do the cheesy jokes. There are a few groaners in here to be sure, but points for a Christmas movie that doesn’t take itself so seriously, that doesn’t believe it has an obligation to make people cry or believe in the goodness of humanity. ‘Santa’s Slay’ wants you to laugh, cringe and have a good time.
Earlier, I referred to this movie as “slick.” And it is: no shaky-cam, no sequences tinted blue, none of the things modern horror audiences tend to associate with modern horror. This may be a turn-off for some people who like things dingy. The film is total Hollywood in its packaging, but don’t we expect Christmas movies to be bright and jingly, like a present? Well, I do, you Scrooge-ish snob, so lighten up and quit looking for auteur work. It’s Christmas.
There are plenty of reasons for ‘Santa’s Slay’ to grow in prominence and become a yearly holiday tradition. Goldberg’s barking mad portrayal of Santa, the cheerful way it dispatches its victims, and the complete and utter absence of Tom Hanks all help to make this one of my family’s favorite holiday films. Sweet without being sticky, weird without being pretentious, ‘Santa’s Slay’ is definitely worth a look.