Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas 2016: December 14

Santa's Slay (2005)

When it comes to killer Santa flicks, horror fans certainly have their share to pick from. If you're hoping to gore up the yuletide, you've got options. Sure, most of them are awful but, occasionally, a gem sneaks through. Heading into “Santa's Slay,” I kept my expectations measured. A direct-to-video horror flick starring a pro-wrestler? There was no reason to expect the film to be entertaining. But entertaining it is! “Santa's Slay” is a Christmas themed horror/comedy that embraces the ridiculousness inherit in such a premise.

Nicholas, a teenager working in a deli, has always assumed his grandfather was crazy. After asking him why the old man gets so scared around the holidays, grandpa finally gives an answer. You see, Santa Claus isn't a friendly, jolly gift giver. He's actually the son of Satan, the literal anti-Christ. After loosing a wager with an angel, Santa was forced to be kind for one thousand years. And now the thousand years are up. Santa Claus has returned to his murderous ways, bringing, not toys, but terror and bloodshed to town. Nick finds he's the only one who can stop the murderous old elf.

Most Christmas horror flicks are contend to stick a murderous maniac in a Santa suit and call it a day. That's not a knock against such fine motion pictures as “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” It's usually enough. “Santa's Slay,” happily, puts a little more thought into it. The film builds up a surprisingly complex mythology. The devil birthed a child with a human woman as a direct reaction to the birth of Christ. People started to gather in church on December 25th in hopes it would protect them from Santa's annual rampage. The film's perverse, clever take on its own mythology is most notable in a flashback. We see how Santa lost his wager with the angel. To match the seasonal setting, it's a curling game. Better yet, the sequence is brought to life in stop-motion animation, obviously reminiscent of the Rankin/Bass specials. Christmas stories of all sorts just can't help but riff on those old specials, it seems.

The creators of “Santa's Slay” really embraced the Christmas trappings. The scenes of yuletide mayhem utilize most of the holiday decorations you'd expect. The opening scene features Santa murdering a bickering family with a star topper and a cooked turkey. It's capped off with a drowning in eggnog. The film actually manages to top this moment of grisly humor when Santa storms into a strip club. He strangles the bouncer with a length of garland. He flips tables, whacks people with a stripper's pole, and sends the whole building up in flames. “Santa's Slay” never quite tops that gloriously absurd moment but it does feature a zamboni chase before it's over.

In truth, calling the film a horror/comedy isn't entirely accurate. There's very little horrific about the flick, as even its gory scenes are played more for humor then anything else. “Santa's Slay” features some delightfully loopy moments. It's ridiculousness peaks when Santa, in his sleigh, chases after the teen hero on a snow ski. The sleigh is pulled by a giant, demonic buffalo. He hurls exploding gifts at his victim. Soon, the chase barrels through a traditional Christmas parade. It's a loopy, goofy moment, getting a number of laughs from this viewer. For good measure, the script also throws in murder by menorah, a trigger-happy hunter with an electronic larynx, and Santa getting shot down with a bazooka.

The film's cast is more then willing to keep up with the script's absurdity. Amusingly, the opening massacre features Fran Drescher, James Caan, Rebecca Gayheart, and Chris Kattan. Actors, you'll notice, are all Jewish. Even the actor playing Santa Claus is Jewish. Bill Goldberg, a pro-wrestler of some renown, plays the killer Claus. Goldberg's massive frame fills out the role and, while the performer's acting won't win any awards, his way with a one-liner or a villainous smirk works perfectly for the film. The only actor in the film actually playing Jewish is Saul Rubenek. Douglas Smith is likable in the lead, if a little too flippant, while Emilie de Ravin has the right attitude as his love interest. Robert Culp brings enough loopy energy to his part as the grandpa that it disguises the blatant exposition the character delivers.

Honestly, with that many recognizable faces in the cast, I'm surprised “Santa's Slay” didn't get a theatrical release. Maybe Bill Goldberg isn't enough of a marquee name? Or was a movie about a satanic Santa Claus, even one as gleefully silly as this one, still too controversial for middle America? Either way, its limited release wouldn't keep “Santa's Slay” from finding an audience. The movie would immediately develop a cult following among horror fans. Unsurprisingly, it's a December tradition in a few households I know. I don't love as much as “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” It lacks that film's anti-social bite. But it's certainly a good time. [7/10]

Peace on Earth (1939)

Did you know that a cartoon was once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize? It's true. The short was produced by MGM, directed by Hugh Harman, and starred Mel Blanc. And, yes, it's a Christmas film. Taking place during a snowy December, “Peace on Earth” is set in a peaceful village inhabited by walking, talking squirrels. The words of “Hark! The Herald Angel Sing,” sang by a near-by choir, prompts a baby squirrel to ask his grandfather what a “man” was. The elder squirrel tells the story of the creatures who used to live on the Earth. He talks of the endless wars these humans would fight against each other. Until, eventually, the entire species was wiped out, allowing animals to inherit the desolate world.

“Peace on Earth” is gorgeously animated and surprisingly grim. The character animation is lively, fluid, and beautifully realized. The cartoon critters are drawn in the cutest way possible, which makes “Peace on Earth's” opening minutes a bit misleading. Once the flashback begins, the short produces some striking images of warfare. We see black suited, gas mask wearing men marching through blasted-out cities. To an animal's eyes, soldiers surely would look like monsters. The final image of the war, of the body of the last human on Earth sinking into the muck, is oddly beautiful but obviously foreboding.

Ultimately, “Peace on Earth” is an indictment of war and human hypocrisies. The animals don't understand why people would work so hard to kill each other. The humans are portrayed as going to war over trivial matters, such as meat eaters fighting vegetarians. With enough perspective, matters of country and religion would seem that minor. Those last two soldiers fight to the death for no perceivable reason. After human beings are extinct, the animals of the forest recover a Bible. They notice how, even though humans wrote the rule “Thou shalt not kill,” they were awful at obeying it. The irony of the title quickly becomes apparent. Without homo sapiens around, Earth truly would be peaceful. While the cutesy characters and squeaky-voiced songs might put off modern viewers, “Peace on Earth” is still a powerful statement, one worth hearing around the holidays. [8/10]

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