Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Jewish Saint

We’re told a lot of lies in our youth. The ice cream truck is empty. Long division is important. Sparky moved to the farm.  Worst of all is the master conspiracy that is Santa Claus. It’s bad enough that children are forced to live in constant fear of an all-knowing magician obsessed with judging their character, only to eventually discover (often at the cruel insensitivity of cooler kids on the playground) that such an entity is a mere illusion created to separate the gullible geeks from the faster developed in-crowd.
But let’s just say there really is a portly gentleman who spends one night a year breaking into billions of homes to deposit a few new toys and eat lots of sugar cookies. How does HE feel about his image being encapsulated in snowglobes, having his name tossed about in lazy lyrics or receiving constant junk mail written in crayon? 
For a new spin on the 2000 year old holiday, there’s Santa’s Slay, a black comedy directed by newcomer David Steiman,  the former long-suffering personal assistant to Brett Ratner (I don’t know he actually suffered; I’m just going with conventional wisdom that Ratner is kind of a drag). Starring proudly Jewish WWE champ Bill Goldberg, this 2005 horror features plenty of pile drives and Nutcracker antics for the whole family, especially if you like your family well enough, but don’t want to spoil them with something overly wonderful.

Quick Plot: We open with a star-studded Christmas dinner for two wealthy families, connected perhaps by an affair or, more likely, the amount of famous names Steiman could assemble in one room for a day of shooting. Don’t get too attached to Rebecca Gayheart, Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan (because of course, you were totally in danger of that) and James Caan (yes, James Caan), as they all receive festive slayings within five minutes.

We’re soon introduced to our young teen protagonists, Nicholas Yuleson (get it? of course you do. Cause you’re not an idiot) and Mary (Lost’s Emilie de Ravin), employees of the world’s friendliest kosher butcher’s shop. Nicholas has lived his short life sans Christmas spirit, mostly because his wacky old grandpa knows the truth behind December 25th. See, back in ye olden days, Santa (Goldberg) was pretty much a jerk, possibly because he had to share his immaculately concepted birthday with golden boy Jesus Christ. Fed up with watching the grizzly sadist slice his way through innocent humans, a kindly angel wagered Santa 1000 years of hellish torment (i.e., burning in Satan’s estate or delivering joy across the world) to be decided in a friendly match of curling.

As any Miracle on 34th St. shopper might deduce, Santa’s curling could have used some coaching. 2005, however, marks the end of his losing conditions and thus, it’s time for the big guy to ride into Hell Township on his one-bison sleigh and celebrate his newfound freedom with a massacre in a strip joint possibly co-owned by Rob Zombie. Ornaments impale, wreaths strangle, pomeranians are hurled into ceiling fans and 80s style street punks die at the pointy ends of candy canes. 

Santa’s Slay is a fun film built on a pile of regifted presents and best enjoyed with store brand eggnog. Watching Santa Claus use ring-worthy moves on burly bouncers and electrocute bartenders with a stripper’s pole is exactly as amusing as it sounds. While no actor is gunning for a Golden Globe, the performances are good-natured and well-aware of how best to deliver the material...
...which is by far the weakest part of Santa’s Slay. While some lines land with clever holiday cheer, there are a lot more that thud loudly without sharp nuance. It doesn’t mean Santa’s Slay isn’t funny; it’s just not quite as funny as it would like to be and for those such as myself who are deeply annoyed by forced comedy, Santa’s Slay toes a thin line between naughty and nice. 
High Points
While not overly memorable, the score is quite a pleasing mashup of well-known carols, humorously modern Santa jingles, and touches of ambition, such as the one measure nod to Fiddler On the Roof cued as a group of Hasidic Jews pass by
A well-placed stop-motion animated flashback to the origin of “good” St. Nick is wonderfully reminiscent of classic Rankin/Bass specials of yore, straight down to the Cornelius Vanderbilt expression on Santa Claus’s face
Low Points
Sorry Mr. Steiman, but contrary to your commentary track, old people swearing and fart jokes are not necessarily always funny by themselves
While I loved the over-the-top insanity of the opening scene, why, why I ask with fists raised to the sky, did Chris Kattan receive the least offensive death?

Although there are plenty of memorable one liners (see below for my favorite), some of the dialogue is just one draft short of snapping. Example: “I’m as happy as a Make-a-Wish kid,” our hero says upon receiving a pretty kickass pistol Transformer. If you think about it, a Make-a-Wish kid isn’t actually happy. He/she is probably in a lot of pain until a wish is actually granted. Edit: “I’m happier than a Make-a-WIsh kid cutting the line to Space Mountain.” A mere reference isn’t funny in itself. It requires honing.

Lessons Learned
Santa Claus and Jesus Christ are birthday buddies
Jewish butchers are closed on Christmas but like to hang out in their shops to make sure people know that
If you live in hell, you shouldn’t use the lord’s name in vain so indiscriminately 
In the 364 days he’s unemployed, Santa Claus spends his time working out and studying the Crypt Keeper's how-to book on the art of punning 
The going rate for a rocket launcher in 2005 was one lung

Winning Line
“Christmas can sure scare the Dickens out of people!”
Funny because a) it’s shouted with such enthusiasm by a WWE champion and b) he’s holding a copy of A Christmas Carol as he says this
Having now watched three homicidal Santa Claus cut their way through the naughty in the last week, my rosy cheeked glee at watching carolers scream in fear is beginning to pale. Still Santa’s Slay is, much like ThanksKilling, a film that understands why holiday horror is such a beloved seasonal tradition. It’s a bit of a mess made by someone still learning the trade, but there is a lot of wackiness to give you a pleasantly offbeat 90 minutes. By no means is this a new classic along the lines of Jack Frost (yes, I’m aware that I’ve just called the mutant killer snowman movie a “classic”), but it’s enjoyable enough to get you through an evening of gift wrapping. You could certainly do better than stale writing and multiple uses of foul-mouthed senior citizenry, but hearing Bill Goldberg try to deliver a monologue in medieval Nordic is something many a connoisseur of cheese can enjoy.


  1. You hit it on the head. This is definitely no Jack Frost. I reviewed this one last year, and I really wanted to like it. I had high expectations. I even talked it up to my friends. And then, well, I completely hated it. Compared to the other killer Santa movies I've checked out, this one is by far the worst.

  2. I think the biggest detriment was that I watched this just a day or two after Christmas Evil, which had such a unique and unforced charm that made Santa's Slay look look like it tried both too hard and not enough. I feel like if you've never seen Jack Frost or other xmas horror parodies, this would seem absolutely fun-tastic but in comparison to others, it's just not that good. I enjoyed it well enough, but I can't be a cheerleader when there are other more worthy teams.