Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?
With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.
Cutting through the strained tension of the Mason family Christmas dinner, Bill Goldberg’s demonic Santa immediately signals the tenor of David Steiman’s Santa’s Slay, a black comedy that looks to its sadistic figurehead for thrills and kills. Before Santa bursts down their chimney, the likes of Fran Drescher, James Caan, and Chris Kattan exude bourgeois decadence of too many stagnant Christmases. The ambience is stiff, the chicken is dry, the eggnog lukewarm. It’s difficult to imagine more perfect targets for yuletide violence, and Santa delivers as much, frying scalps with flaming liquors and impaling with chicken drumsticks.
For Steiman, the Mason family dinner is enough of a tired, licentious retread to demand a switch-up. Everyone in Hell’s Township knows the story of Santa Claus, but not the real story, at least as one cooky codger (Robert Culp) tells it. Just as Jesus was born via virgin birth, so too did Satan produce a son, Santa, who would grow up to slay helpless souls each Christmas. That is, until he was defeated by an angel in an ancient curling match and sentenced to deliver presents to all the world’s children for 1,000 years. In 2005, those 1,000 years are up, and Santa’s back to his old, throat-slitting ways. Steiman’s tongue-in-cheek riffing on Santa’s commercial mascot makes for an OK dig on the state of its religious roots, but “evil Santa” is not a wholly unknown story to Hell Township’s Nicholas Yuleson (Douglas Smith) and Mary Mackenzie (Emilie de Ravin). They know the accepted tales of Christmas aren’t the truth; it just takes some coaxing of Nicholas’ grandfather before he’ll read from his giant tome of Nordic legend.
This new Santa, however, presents a bit of a problem. Short of a sizable supporting turn in Brian Robbins’ ill-fated Ready to Rumble and his role as Battle in the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard, Santa’s Slay is arguably Goldberg’s most prominent performance — it’s certainly his meatiest. While Goldberg is a far cry from inhabiting phenomenal range, he effectively growls bits about who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, a rough approximation of his “Who’s Next?” shtick from his days with World Championship Wrestling. As a demented harbinger of evil, this Santa’s plenty fine, even if most of his menace comes from hurling Christmas stars, knives, even a hardcover copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at fleeing victims. Too much of the black comedy derives from this evil Santa spitting forth familiar lines with malice and disgust, and this is not your typical Kris Kringle. He drives a sleigh not pulled by “eight tiny reindeer” but one angry bison and delivers gift-wrapped explosives instead of presents. Grandpa Yuleson’s ancient storytime suggests a deeper mythological twist here — a few rungs below the ret-conned universes of Dogma or Constantine — but short of a historical preamble of period artwork, this evil Santa’s never really situated in anything outside of a juxtaposition to our own familiarity.
Santa’s Slay is mercifully short, clocking in at a mere 78 minutes, and thus operates as more of an extended exercise than a well-rounded parody. Given the middling territory, brevity’s not a bad thing. For such an evocative name, the people of Hell Township are downright dull, save Saul Rubinek’s feisty Jewish deli owner. Nick and Mary’s will they/won’t they romance is neither here nor there, and short of flavorful cameos from Dave Thomas and Tiny Lister, the flat townsfolk practically beg to be slaughtered by Santa; the punk soundtrack and darkly upbeat tempo whenever he appears suggest as much. Its finale puts the shocks to the side, pitting Santa and Grandpa’s returned spirit, revealed as the original avenging angel, in a curling rematch of the fates.
Santa’s Slay’s laughs are strained and while some of its kills are satisfying, the degree to which Steiman take pleasure in those kills problematizes audience sympathies. Maybe he’s just giddy all those years working as Brett Ratner’s PA finally paid off with the director financing his project.
Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Way #3: Jack Frost (1997)
Way #4: Jack Frost (1998)
Way #5: Jingle All the Way