Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Christmas 2016: December 6
The modern version of Santa Claus is based fairly closely on Sinterklaas, the holiday tradition in various Scandinavian countries. Both characters are based off the historical figure of Saint Nicholas, though Sinterklaas is a little closer. Instead of passing out gifts on Christmas Eve, Sinterklaas distributes presents to good children on December 5th, the eve of the holiday devoted to St. Nicolas. Though cultural differences vary, both characters more-or-less serve the same purpose. And like Santa Claus, Sinterklaas would eventually receive a horror movie make-over. “Saint” came from the amazingly named Dick Maas, previously of killer elevator flick “The Lift” and slasher film “Amsterdamned.” Much like the various killer Santa flicks, the film garnered some controversy in its home country for putting a grisly spin on a children’s icon. Like those American films, “Saint” would quickly develop a cult following.
The Dutch children have been lied too. Saint Nicholas wasn’t a generous man, saving daughters from ghastly fates and dropping gold-filled socks down chimneys. Instead, he was a cruel warlord, demanding money, food, or virgins from towns. Eventually, the people had enough and burnt Nicholas and his followers alive. Now, whenever December 5th falls on a full moon, St. Nicholas returns from beyond the grave, going on a murderous rampage. During the Saint’s last killing spree, Goert’s family was brutally killed. Forty years later, he’s a police officer and is prepared for Nicholas’ return. As the villain goes about reaping chaos, teenagers Frank and Lisa are caught up in Goert’s mission.
For the film’s breezy tone, its villains are played totally straight. Saint Nicholas is as indestructible as any slasher movie villain, totally unaffected by gunshots. He rides an unkillable white horse and wields a razor bladed crosier. He tears up a number of victims with that weapon, including impalement, evisceration, and a clever decapitation. The film has a clever take on Zwarte Piet as well, Sinterklaas’ politically incorrect helpers. Instead of being Moorish slaves or having faces blackened with soot, their zombies with skin burnt black from the fire. The gore is grisly, even showing the villain inflicting violence on kids. But there’s a puckish sense of humor about the whole thing, keeping things from getting too unpleasant.
“Saint’s” ending seems to set up a sequel, as the evil Saint Nicholas is more then likely to return. If Maas threw this in as a sincere sequel hook or simply as a throwback to eighties’ slasher flicks, I’m not sure. The film certainly has a blasphemous streak I enjoy. While most films would simply dress a serial killer up as a beloved, childhood icon, Dick Maas had the balls to make the real deal a murderer. I admire that chutzpah. “Saint” is silly, and a bit of a trifle, but should entertain horror fans. For extra comedy value, watch the ludicrous English dub included on the DVD, which was almost certainly bad on purpose. [7/10]
The Christmas Toy (1985)
For years, I’ve been hearing about how “Toy Story” was totally a rip-off. Rumor has it that the plot is nearly identical to a Jim Henson produced Christmas special from the mid-eighties. Having now watched “The Christmas Toy,” I can say the accusation isn’t without basis. Both films take place in a world where toys come to life when the children leave the room. In both, the haughty “favorite” toy lords his popularity over the other toys. In both, that toy’s favorite status is threatened when a new, space-themed action figure enters the playroom. The two space toys also take themselves way too seriously. In the end, everyone learns a lesson in humility. Now, don’t get me wrong, “Toy Story” is obviously the better movie. But it’s fair to say that “The Christmas Toy” did it first.
There is a big difference between the two films. In “The Christmas Toy,” when a person spots a toy moving around, it looses its ability to come to life. The toy’s “soul” is essentially torn out. Another difference is, while Pixar took great pains to make sure Woody wasn’t an asshole, the same courtesy wasn’t taken with Rugby the Tiger. Including a somewhat irritating vocal pattern, he spends half of the special bragging about how he’s the little girl’s favorite. His ego is threatened when Christmas arrives and he’s determined to sabotage the holiday. The story teams him up with a cat toy, who he also frequently mocks. These points come together at the end, when the cat toy is spotted by a person. Rugby realizes the mouse was his only friend, learning a hard lesson in what sacrifice and friendship means. “The Christmas Toy” does cheat a bit, as the sincere song brings the mouse back to life. Which definitely retroactively removes some of the tension from the film.
A downside to “The Christmas Toy” are some of the muppet designs. Apple the Doll is slightly creepy looking, stumbling into the uncanny valley. I wish a few of the supporting characters – like the cab driver toy, vain Barbie doll expy, or cute dragon – got a little more screen time. In the original television broadcast and VHS release, Kermit the Frog introduces and closes the film. The DVD release clips these scenes, since Kermit and the gang are owned by Disney now. Luckily, the Kermit sequences can be found on YouTube and are quite cute. “The Christmas Toy” is a cute hour for the kids, with some decent songs and above-average muppet effects. The ending, I’ll admit, got me slightly misty eyed so I guess the special achieved its goal. [7/10]