Huub Stapel as Niklas
Egbert Jan Weeber as Frank
Caro Lenssen as Lisa
Escha Tanihatu as Sophie
Bert Luppes at Goert
It's been said that last year's well-received Norwegian oddity, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale â€“ which I missed out on â€“ is more dark fantasy than horror. That's not the case with the latest entry in the evil Santa subgenre, Saint. This is a slasher with a body count in the twenties, with eight dispatched by the ten-minute-mark.Â
The original Black Christmas' status as arguably the best holiday horror movie is certainly secure, but Saint â€“ hailing from Holland â€“ has what is perhaps the most effective killer Kris Kringle to date. The closest competition: Larry Drake in the Tales from the Crypt episode And All Through the House. Sure, Drake's character was a costumed maniac, but Saint's bearded baddie (Huub Stapel) technically isn't Santa Claus, either. In essence, the Santa we know is a fat, watered-down, American remake; Saint Niklas is the slim, dark, Dutch-speaking original. As laid out by writer-director Dick Maas (making a $5 million budget look like a very slick 30-40) in a genuinely creepy double prologue, he's not a toymaker, but a sadistic bishop who's shades of Freddy facially (after 15th Century villagers torch his pirate ship), The Tall Man in stature and near-silence, and Jason in modus operandi, killing male and female, young and old, and naughty and nice with equal vigor.
In the modern-day, Amsterdam-set meat of the movie, a crew of slasher movie staples is quickly introduced. High school nice guy Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber) is enjoying a rebound romance with the wholesome Lisa (Caro Lenssen) after being dumped by the icy hot Sophie (Escha Tanihatu). Goert (Bert Luppes), a detective seen as a crackpot conspiracy theorist by his superiors, functions as an â€œAhab.â€ As a boy, he survived a home invasion that claimed the lives of his family (including a few younger siblings stolen by a Poltergeist-esque chimney sweeping). Naturally, he's now hellbent on destroying the monster behind the myth, and there's no night like tonight. Not only is it the anniversary of Niklas's death, but there's also a full moon, so he and his horde of burnt up buccaneers would be shamefully lame slashers to not take advantage. And take advantage they do (again: twenty-something times).
The characters are stock, but played with aplomb; the plot is pure formula, but handled with panache. The kills are brutal if a little repetitive, and usually â€œenhancedâ€ with CG that ranges from barely there to blatant. Most occur at the end of Niklas's golden staff, which often springs into frame with no warning, sometimes erupting through a torso from behind, Candyman-style. This may not be an intentional Tony Todd nod, but plenty of moments are clear homage, and derived from one of the best: John Carpenter. For starters, Maas establishes the Lisa character as the shy one on an afterschool walk home with two friendsâ€¦ along a hedgeâ€¦ with the subjects of the boogeyman and babysitting popping up. The Halloween parallels here aren't subtle, but not much in the movie is â€“ in the best way possible.
Tonally and structurally, it's the work of another director that Saint may recall most: Tom McLoughlin. Not ringing any sleigh bells? He directed Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, and Saint has similar cheeky-but-not-cheesy humor (okay, an awful, very Predator 2 joke with Niklas falling through the ceiling of a gay couple's apartment is an exception), action movie energy and pace, body count and plot points (Frank is jailed as a suspect, a la Tommy Jarvis). A theme song by Alice Cooper would be right at home.
As fun and freewheeling as much of this is â€“ not quite Big Trouble in Amsterdam, but fun â€“ there's a lot of untapped potential. That may be a little unfair, considering how far Maas stretches the budget, including a signature setpiece with cops opening fire on Niklas as he barrels across rooftops on his trusty, undead horse. It's just odd that the film doesn't cut even looser in the second half, since Amsterdam's at the director's disposal. The city's red light district is barely explored, much less exploited. A conscious choice must've been made to avoid the expected stop-offs to smoke shops and the hookers in glass booths on the sidewalks. The director is far more interested in placing action on the city's waterways, but these lengthy, talky sequences tend to stop the movie dead. Rather than fulfill any narrative need, they appear to exist for the sake of production value, and to pay tribute to The Fog.
And for a movie with a high school teacher annoyed at the number of sex toys unwrapped during a classroom gift exchange, there's a curious absence of nudity (or confounding absence, some might say, considering the actresses cast).
These nitpicks and a truncated third act aside, Saint works well as the kind of out-there, subversive spectacle that no Hollywood studio would dare finance. At least not until the remake.