‘This Christmas, Santa’s Coming To Slay…’
So reads the tagline for Saint, Dick Mass’ blackly comic yuletide horror about a “murderous renegade bishop” who kidnaps children on the dark, blizzard-swept eve of December 5th, the traditional date of celebration for Sinterklass. Legend dictates that when this night bears a full moon St. Nick will return, raising his festive spear to the throats of little’uns whose only wish is to find a puppy or scalextric set burrowed under their tree. Mounted upon his demonic steed, this vengeful Santa is an evil tyrant who once pillaged villages and stole their young – that is until a rag-tag troop of parents gathered their torches and pitchforks to wreak revenge. Horror fans will instantly recognize hints of Freddy Krueger’s backstory in the Nightmare On Elm Street series (1984 – 1994), and on a first glance this festal slasher might draw comparison with Silent Night, Deadly Night (E. Sellier, Jr, 1984), but the two couldn’t be more different. This is undeniably a horror from the Low Country…
Maas’ most famed work is probably 1988’s Amsterdamned, a Dutch giallo about a scuba-diving killer who scales the city’s canals for fresh female meat. I once described the film as “a remake of Jaws, but with a psychopath instead of a shark” and by this logic Saint is basically a retelling of your traditional Nöel fairytale, but with a spindly disfigured butcher instead of a jolly plump present bearer. Clocking in at a lean 78 minutes, the film is an action-packed ride through a snowy suburb in the Netherlands, populated by various horror movie clichés. Actually, Maas’ does show an odd level of contempt for his stereotypes (cliquey bitches, crass jocks, drunken ex-cops), especially the young tech-savvy protagonists who exist at the whim of their IPhones – in fact, one group of broadly etched friends have their limbs lopped off for the failure of their GPS system. Maas’ might be having a poke at contemporary culture here, and in some scenes he does so pretty scathingly, but it never stops the film from being fun. The screenplay is actually very witty and, despite being caricatures, the characters do develop into people we can care about and get behind – especially Goert (Bert Luppes), our ex-cop.
What really sells the film are its set-pieces, and they’re an absolute riot. Believe me when I say that you won’t see a more original chase sequence this year – a cops vs. santa rooftop pursuit! St. Nick darts across houses as the police pursue below, speeding down tight one-way streets and crowded estates, firing off rounds at the red-caped baddie. Eventually they land a blow and… well, I won’t spoil the outcome, but it’s a smashing finale. It’s also worth commenting on the quality of the SFX here – Maas can’t have been working from a huge budget, but his monsters are astonishingly well rendered, and the action scenes are state-of-the-art. The final set-piece, despite amounting to a huge anti-climax, also looks terrific, handling beheadings and firefights on a pretty impressive scale. Maas’, who is now 60, directs the action with energy and confidence; indeed, Saint has all the technical vigor and extreme gore of an eager debut.
It’s not perfect, but Saint is definitely a Halloween release I can recommend, and actually it’s disappointing to find the flick landing straight onto DVD. Some may be uncomfortable with the en masse kiddie slaughter (it happens offscreen, but Santa does burn a children’s ward to the ground), and I can imagine the stock character types getting on people’s nerves, but Mass’ latest has enough dark wit, brooding atmosphere and blood spurting decapitations to satisfy any horror hound looking for something a bit different this October 31st. One of the genre’s most undervalued auteurs has struck gold again with a wonderfully crafted snow-steeped slashfest – it’s a blast!
Excellent quality release; the image is crisp and clear. I’m surprised it hasn’t been made available on Blu-Ray. The lack of extras is also very disappointing – it’s really unforgivable these days to release a DVD package that doesn’t even contain a theatrical trailer.
Director: Dick Maas
Writer: Dick Maas
Stars: Huub Stapel, Egbert Jan Weeber, Caro Lenssen
Runtime: 85 min