After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
There’s nothing like taking a beloved children’s character and perverting it for use in a horror film. It just makes me smile ear-to-ear. You can do it with numerous personalities, fictional or real, but the one that is most famous and terrifying has to be Santa Claus. A child puts his trust in Kringle more than any other person on the planet. He will tell a man dressed as the jolly old elf at a shopping mall more than he will tell his own parents. When you take that trust and flip it to where this figure of gift giving and love becomes a homicidal maniac, you are set to warp some minds.
Most would say that this practice started with a notorious slasher film from 1984 called Silent Night, Deadly Night – but killer Claus predates that by a few decades. In issue number 35 of the horror comic The Vault of Horror (dated February/March 1954) there was a story called “… and All Through the House…” where a housewife who just killed her husband finds herself trapped in her home with an escaped mental patient dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve. Years later in 1972, the UK’s Amicus Productions would make a horror anthology film called Tales from the Crypt, based on those EC Comics that had been around for twenty-plus years, and the first tale they adapted was “… and All Through the House…” It would once again be adapted into the second standalone episode of the Tales from the Crypt TV show on HBO in 1989. So, as you can see the killer elf is nothing new; SNDN just got all the press, picketing and boycotts for turning a beloved children’s idol/hero into a criminal. Since the 80s, numerous other films, TV shows, comics, books and whatever else there is out there has twisted Santa. The latest in the list is a Dutch offering that goes by the name Sint (aka Saint, or Saint Nick) by this year’s HMN bookending director Dick Maas!
It seems that Sinterklaas in the Netherlands was not the jolly saint that legend would have you believe. Instead of helping people or passing out presents on Saint Nicholas Day (December 6th, though some do the gift giving on the 5th for St. Niklas Eve) this man would go around taking things from people, demanding sacrifices or he would unleash terror upon their village with the help of his Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes. One small town in 1492 decided they’d had enough and torched the boat he was on in attempt to kill the former bishop, but it just made him angry, immortal and ready for revenge. Now every time there is a full moon on St. Nicholas Eve he will return and take as many lives as he can before the night is through. The last time they swept the country was in 1968, when Goert (Bert Luppes) was just a boy and saw his whole family slaughtered. Now it’s 42 years later and he’s all grown-up and a member of the local police force. Everyone thinks he’s crazy but Sinterklaas does indeed return and it’s up to Goert to put a stop to his reign of terror.
Sophie: There’s a full moon on December 5th only every 32 years.
Lisa: And? Great isn’t it?
Sophie: Legend goes that St. Niklas is out to get you if there’s a full moon on December 5th.
Lisa: Only misbehaved kids, right?
Sophie: No, he’s not that fussy. Kids, adults… Laura says he cuts your throat and then rips your heart out with his bare hands.
There is a lot to like in this new slasher film out of Amsterdam. And I say that as objectively as possible as someone who loves killer Santa movies. This takes the traditional roots of the Coca-Cola mascot we all know today and puts him back into the traditional Catholic robes and giant hat with which he was originally associated. Only this take doesn’t see the usual religious iconography, but instead every bit of his garb is adorned with inverted crosses and he carries a large, sharp staff which he uses to dispatch those in his path. Maas used this Dutch legend, and basis for Kris Kringle, to weave a fun and bloody story that uses some great scenery around Amsterdam’s canal streets. My only complaint is that I wish we got to see the burned, immortal Niklas do more of the killing rather than relegating that to his Pieten lackeys. Still, we are treated to much mayhem and blood spillage all over the snow-covered ground.
While the film’s subject is treated seriously you can tell that certain aspects are lightened to give you a few laughs along the way. When we first make it to present day Amsterdam we are taken to a high school class where they are exchanging presents and more than one girl is gifted a dildo in varying sizes and colors. Pretty sure my teachers would not have let that go. Oh, to live in Europe… I digress. It’s also quite amusing how they seem to have no regard for gun safety in the Netherlands. Geort fires a few rounds at a gift sitting on his desk INSIDE the police station and nothing happens. Later, a couple of cops are chasing after Niklas as he rides his white horse across rooftops and they just fire from their moving car without taking too much time to aim. Good thing no one was standing by his or her window enjoying the view.
Another chuckle everyone I watched this with got is from what it sounds like the actors are saying in Dutch. I know this is their language and they aren’t English words, but it sure as shit sounds like they are saying “fuck” practically every other word, and I wasn’t the only one who heard someone say “dick fill”. I don’t know what that would even mean but the childish side of me (my main side) giggled heartily.
An interesting thing I picked up while watching is how similar things seem to John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. After leaving a school on a holiday three girls walk home gossiping and clutching their books in their arms. This sequence in particular gave me a very strong homage vibe as well as the flashbacks used at the beginning and just the overall way many things are handled. Maas may have done this intentionally, it could be an accident or it might just be my brain making things up. After all Halloween did influence pretty much every other slasher in some way.
One other interesting fact is this film’s poster evidently caused quite a controversy overseas. It depicts the zombie-looking Sint and people were afraid that young children who came to the theater would see it and be forever traumatized. Meh. People boycotted and campaigned to have it removed to preserve the joy of the season. There’s suspicion that these outraged people were all a publicity stunt; if so, it worked. The poster was awarded the TV Krant Filmposter Award for 2010 for “best cinema poster of the year.” Heh.
Van Dijk: Getting presents can be fun, but you always end up with crap you don’t need.
It just happened to work out so well that Dick Maas’ latest film came out on DVD in the states the day before the Christmas Edition of HMN. Next week we’ll have one more of his films that will be discussed to close out the year. In the meantime, this is a fun Xmas slasher that deserves to be added to your holiday horror watch list. I would do a triple-bill of this, SNDN and Santa’s Slay for an evening of awesome Chief Elf violence!
Until next week – I hope everyone had a very Dick Maas Christ-maas
Body Count: I counted 21 people and 9 Black Petes, but at the end of the film it says 300 died
Time to First Kill: 4:42
Best Kill: Decapitated by Niklas’ staff
Number of Gifted Dildos in Classroom: 6
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-12/28/11: The Shaft (2001) aka Down – Last film of 2011
-1/4/12: The Carrier (1988)
-1/11/12: Beasties (1991)
-1/18/12: Venom (1981)