Santa's Slay

Director: David Steiman
Bill Goldberg, Douglas Smith, Emilie de Ravin

When you were young, most likely your childhood was like mine, filled with magic. For instance, it seemed to me that magicians really did have magic powers, and there were plenty of magical beings like The Easter Bunny or Jack Frost. But as time went by for me, doubts about these things slowly entered my mind and eventually I didn't believe in these supposedly magical things anymore. Let me tell you the story about how I discovered one magical part of my childhood simply wasn't true at all. When I first started to lose my baby teeth, following my parents' advice, I would place each tooth under my pillow at night. In the morning, when I looked under my pillow, I would find a quarter. This went on for quite some time, and as time went on it started to dawn on me that the whole idea of there being a fairy that would collect teeth was starting to sound ridiculous. So I decided to test things. When I next lost a tooth, I didn't tell my parents, but slipped it under my pillow all the same. When I checked under my pillow the next morning, the tooth was still there. I decided to test it again the next night. The next morning the tooth was still there. Those results told me a lot, but I decided to further test things by telling my parents what I had been doing, with no results. The next morning I looked under my pillow and found not only a quarter, but a short note supposedly from the Tooth Fairy apologizing for missing my tooth earlier. Needless to say, I didn't believe in the Tooth Fairy anymore, and at that point another little bit of my childhood died.

But there was likely in your childhood one kind of magic that had all other beat, and that was Santa Claus. What kid wouldn't want to believe that there was some figure who liked to give away presents to children? I don't remember exactly when I figured out that there was no Santa Claus, though it probably happened that I believed one year, had serious doubts the next year, and the subsequent year I simply stopped believing. Looking back at the approximate point when I stopped believing, I recently realized something that I hadn't consciously realized before. As soon as I become a non-believer, my attitude towards Santa became extremely hostile. I would giggle at dirty Santa jokes like the one asking why Santa could not have children, the answer of which is too vulgar to print here. In fact, I noticed that with other older kids and adults it was often the same - if they were not trying to sell Santa to young kids, quite often the attitude they had towards Santa was somewhat hostile. Why is there hostility here? After thinking about it for a while, I've come up with some kind of possible answer. It may be that these former kids are somewhat embarrassed that they were fooled for so long that Santa supposedly existed. And being embarrassed, their hostility towards Santa may be an attempt to tell others around them that they are no fools, that they were supposedly not tricked. They are cool and with it instead of being naive. Another possibility, a related one, is that people tend to become more cynical as they get older, and their slamming of Santa might just be one unfortunate symptom.

I have noticed, however, that when these same people who slam their memories of Santa enter the world of motion pictures, they haven't made over the years a great effort to make movies that actually slam Santa. Thinking about it briefly, I can only think of Christmas Evil, the Santa's SlaySilent Night Deadly Night series, Don't Open Till Christmas, and To All A Good Night when it comes to movies with extremely negative portrayals of Santa. The reason for this is pretty evident - positive portrayals bring in family audiences and big bucks, while negative portrayals risk extreme backlash as well as the fact that most adults seem to avoid Santa movies even if negative. I admit that I haven't exactly rushed out to see those movies I mentioned earlier in this paragraph. But recently I came across another negative Santa movie that looked so offbeat I simply had to give it a look, and that was Santa's Slay. Reading the following plot description will give you some clue as to why I was eager to watch it: It is Christmas Eve in the small community of Hell Township, and everybody from the local town pastor (Dave Thomas, SCTV) to the local deli store owner (Saul Rubinek, Ticket To Heaven) is eager to celebrate the holiday season in their own way. That evening Santa Claus (Goldberg, Universal Soldier: The Return) comes to town, and while that may sound great, this year it isn't a good thing. Santa Claus this year is in a homicidal mood, and he proceeds to kill one by one various people in town, often in bizarre ways. A teenager in town named Nicholas (Smith, Antiviral) learns the truth about Santa from his senile grandfather (Robert Culp, I Spy). Centuries ago, Satan spawned a son from a rendezvous with a virgin woman, this son being an Antichrist that loved to spread mayhem on Christmas. But one day, this Antichrist participated in a curling match with an angel, and the Antichrist lost the match. The angel then sentenced the Antichrist to deliver presents and holiday joy for the next thousand years - resulting in the Santa Claus we have been familiar with for so long. A thousand years have now passed and Santa is now very eager to get back to spreading slaughter and misery on mankind. Nicholas may now know the truth, but the problem is not just finding a way to fend off Santa, but convincing anyone of the truth other than his loyal girlfriend Mary (de Ravin, The Hills Have Eyes) as the body count escalates.

Though the DVD box art that I have replicated in the above paragraph suggests that Santa's Slay is a full-on horror movie, I have a feeling that you have concluded that the movie doesn't take itself completely seriously. It was probably my mention of the curling duel in the above plot synopsis. As it turns out, there is more than just occasional comic relief in Santa's Slay - most of the scenes in the movie have at least one attempt at humor in them. The question you are probably wanting to be answered now is if the humor in the movie works for the most part. Naturally I can't speak for everyone, but I can report that I was greatly amused by much of the movie. The laughs start right from the beginning, where Santa bursts into a dining room where a family is having dinner, and the family members are played by not only several famous American television actors, but an uncredited veteran Hollywood movie star who has an Oscar nomination among his achievements. (Not for this movie, of course!) From that point on, the movie keeps up a steady stream of humor, doing anything it can to make the audience laugh. Indeed, there is great variety with all of these genuinely funny gags in the movie, from Santa's one-liners to a nifty Rankin/Bass-inspired stop motion animation sequence. It's true that some of the humor is downright juvenile, ranging from having more than one senior citizen spitting out curse words to a national defense system titled, "Global Operations Network for Aerospace Defense". But to my surprise, I found that many of these lowbrow gags had me chuckling as well. The movie is so determined to be as silly as possible that I couldn't help but get caught up in its infectious spirit.

Even though the humor does get juvenile at times, Santa's Slay was clearly written and directed by someone with not just a good sense of humor, but with enough brains to know what gags were clever and what simple-minded gags he could get away with. That person, making his screenwriting and directorial debut, was David Steiman. I'll get to more of how he makes this silly premise work so well later on in this review, but first I want to mention one aspect to the movie that I was slightly disappointed with, something that other horror fans might also be let down with. Although the movie got an "R" rating, there are times where you might be wondering what on earth got the movie that rating. What I'm really talking about is with the level of blood and gore in the movie. Surprisingly, there isn't much of that gushy stuff here, which is weird when you see how enthusiastic the movie is in many other aspects. Despite this, there are a number of moments of mayhem that are entertaining to watch. People get killed in ways that you've probably haven't seen before, ranging from being stabbed in the neck by a menorah, or in the eye by a candy cane. Not only is the mayhem varied and entertaining, the figure who is doing all the killing makes for a great villain. Though you might not think that Bill Goldberg is a great actor from other movies, he does really well playing this murderous Santa. Naturally, with his background in wrestling, he does the physical portion of the role very well, performing a lot of his own stunts. But he also gives it his all with his character's snappy comments while snapping necks. Goldberg is clearly having a lot of fun playing a really bad character, and his enthusiasm in the role has the same results as the enthusiasm put into the movie by writer and director Steinman - you get caught up in it and find you're having as much fun as these guys.

Goldberg isn't the only actor in Santa's Slay to give a good performance. Sal Rubinek, one of my favorite Canadian actors, gives his brief role a likeability that makes you remember him despite his character checking out early. Dave Thomas also has a small role, but does deliver a few laughs playing a pastor of questionable ethics. And the late Robert Culp has a meaty role as the senile grandfather, his odd behavior resulting in a lot of amusing moments. Wisely, not all of the cast plays it for laughs. Douglas Smith and Emilie de Ravin, as the young couple who learn of the menace and spend most of the movie fighting it, play it straight. I think this was a wise decision of both of the actors and writer / director Steiman, because I think being completely silly would have ruined the movie. You've got to have some normalcy to make the surrounding humor bounce well. Anyway, while most of the movie is indeed silly, it is executed with great professionalism by Steiman. This is a surprisingly good-looking movie. It is well photographed and lit, for starters. And there was no apparent cost-cutting with costumes, sets, or props; for one thing, they got a real bison (painted white) to play the animal that pulls Santa's sleigh. There are also all sorts of details added to the background of various scenes that make the world of this movie a really convincing one. Except for a few dodgy moments involving CGI special effects, Santa's Slay look so good that I am surprised that no distributor gave it a release in theaters. Maybe the running time got some potential distributors nervous; if you take out the closing credits, the movie only runs seventy-one minutes long. But actually that turns out to be an ideal length for this particular movie, with there being no obvious padding at any moment. And with the movie being jam-packed with genuinely funny humor and other entertaining moments, I have to say this is one movie where you get more for your money than many movies that run much longer.

(Posted December 1, 2014)

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See also: Blizzard, Santa With Muscles, To All A Good Night