Santa's Slay

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/30/05 21:49:22

"An unexpectedly giddy treat. Who knew?"
3 stars (Just Average)

David Steiman spent years working as an assistant to Brett Ratner, but please do not hold that against him. Through this job, he somehow managed to get his hack boss to co-produce a pet project of his, a horror comedy about a killer Santa Claus that’s far better than you would ever possibly assume it to be. So congratulations, Mr. Steiman. You’ve escaped the madness of assisting a dumbass, and you’ve outdone him in the process. Good on ya.

The movie is “Santa’s Slay,” and it’s one of those seemingly ridiculous direct-to-video movies you would rent on a lark, expecting some piece of hilarious terribleness. After all, it stars pro wrestler Bill Goldberg as the homicidal St. Nick, and the DVD cover displays him wielding an ice pick as his weapon of choice.

But then, as you watch, you discover that it’s not bad at all. Funny, sure. It’s definitely hilarious. But the comedy is entirely intentional, with nothing taken seriously in the least. There are even a few brief moments of absolute brilliance on display (most notably a side step in which the tale of the killer Santa is told in stop-motion animation, Rankin-Bass style). Granted, there’s enough juvenile humor that sputters (a space tracking agency is abbreviated to spell “GONAD,” har har), and the ramshackle structure of the whole thing keeps it from being as clever as it could be, but it’s consistently funny enough to win out - and, more importantly, to show us what Steiman has to offer in the future.

The twistedly silly story finds the small neighborhood of Hell Township under attack by a maniacal Claus, and only a crazy old coot (Robert Culp) seems to know why. Turns out Santa is actually the son of Satan, only he lost a bet to an angel and was forced to spend a thousand years delivering presents to children around the world. The thousand years is now up, Santa’s pissed, and can the coot’s grandson (Douglas Smith) save the day?

That’s all there is to the story, really, as Steiman alternates between the grandson-cracking-the-mystery plotline (girlfriend Emilie de Ravin - of “Lost” fame - tossed in for added value) and mostly random moments of Santa violence. Santa attacks a family. Santa attacks a strip joint. Santa attacks the kindly deli owner (death by menorah, by the way, can be very funny business). It would all get drearily repetitive if Steiman were less able to find new ways of keeping the humor flowing. While Goldberg, who’s obviously having a gas with the role, is stuck delivering groan-worthy puns and one-liners (“Christmas can sure scare the Dickens out of people,” he yuks while reading “A Christmas Carol”), the supporting cast gets some genuine keepers, thereby saving the picture. In fact, the dialogue here is unexpectedly clever, both in snarky pop references and silly, highly memorable throwaway lines. And the cast is up to the task, winking all the way. (Culp is ridiculously enjoyable here, while Dave Thomas, as a sexed-up minister, gets the movie’s biggest laughs.)

“Santa’s Slay” is, ultimately, just one long excuse to goof off. It’s an exercise in absurdity, right down to a major plot point involving that sport of champions: curling. If the idea of a killer Santa locked in a game of curling for the fate of Christmas sounds like your cup of ridiculousness, then you’re bound to chuckle throughout Steiman’s insane creation. It’s cheap, it’s goofy, but it’s surprisingly smart and endlessly entertaining.

Oh, one final note. Santa’s outfit, an intricate Scandinavian work of red leather and fur, is more impressive in its detail than almost any authentic retro-Santa suit I’ve seen on film. (Take that, “Narnia!”) And all for just a silly little comedy horror. Serious kudos go to costume designer Mary Hyde-Kerr, whose work alone helps bump this project up a notch. Other B-moviemakers take note: it’s the little things that can make a difference between noticeably cheap and impressively inexpensive. I giggled at the clever writing and ribbing performances - but I marveled at the costume work. Go figure.

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