By Jason Sawyer – Dec. 17, 2018
Released Dec. 18, 2011
Unrated (equal to rated R for graphic violence, language, and brief nudity) – 1hr 25min
Directed by Dick Maas
Starring Egbert Jan Weeber, Caro Lenssen, Bert Luppes
Saint Nicholas was actually an evil guy, and was finally taken down by angry villagers who had enough of him and his gang’s rampaging. So, every time a full moon falls on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas – December 5th – he and his murderous ruffians, the Black Peters, return from the grave to go on a killing frenzy.
While it’s not quite splatterstick – the distinct brand of deliriously sick displays of absurd violence best represented by Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 and Peter Jackson’s Braindead (Dead Alive), Saint is not far off. It balances its goofy charm with an alternately serious approach that generally works. Yet, it’s important to note that this is an unmistakably Dutch creation.
Saint was one of two European evil Santa movies released in 2010, but the American release was delayed a year, presumably not to compete for a limited market with Finland’s Rare Exports, which is almost inarguably the superior of the two movies. At a glance though, the Dutch iteration does appear the more interesting of the two, promising a blood-soaked high-energy experience with a supernatural zombie Santa cutting a swath of destruction through the streets of Amsterdam compared to the more desolate and brooding atmosphere of the Finnish film. However, that’s not entirely how it plays out.
The mall Santa took some questionable liberties with his costume this year.
When Saint does set its sickle upon action, that’s when it shines brightest. The main protagonist’s first meeting with St. Nick and his band of Yuletide slayers, who dispatch his buddies in brutal fashion before he makes a narrow escape, is a particularly stand-out scene. The highlight of the movie, which honestly makes any of its shortcomings forgivable, is a police chase of Zombie Santa as he navigates his horse (he rides horseback in Dutch tradition) along the rooftops of a city neighborhood that ends in a spectacularly unlikely manner – it truly is as awesome as it sounds. There’s several more neat moments like this throughout, and they’re satisfying when they arrive, but what’s in between leaves a lot to be desired.
First, despite nailing the look, the titular villain falls somewhat flat in screen presence. That key moment needed to really infuse his character’s moments with dread just never arrives. It could be because Saint is tonally all over the place – not comedic enough for proper parody or scary enough for effective horror, its elements only partially blend together and it’s noticeable. The pace is likewise up-and-down, as every time St. Nick and the Black Peters (which is probably the name of a rock band that played Glasgow nightclubs in the ’80s) made their escape, the movie slowed to a crawl.
“Look, I’m just the guy’s ghost horse. I consider myself blameless in all this.”
That leaves us with a bevy of underdeveloped characters – the grizzled police detective that survived Killer Santa as a child and no one believes, the handsome young bloke wrongfully arrested for the murders so that he can be in the right place at the right time to become an accidental hero, his pretty girlfriend who is pretty and his girlfriend, grizzled police detective #2, etc. – and their uninteresting goings-on. It can be a slog watching the protagonists piece together a mystery that the audience already knows in its absolute entirety, and it feels like the runtime padding that it is. One last point of contention, however, is not to be held against the movie, but could concern a prospective viewer all the same – this movie is very Dutch. Never mind that the premise itself centers upon specifically Dutch holiday traditions, there is a number of presumed jokes involving Dutch cultural references that flew so far over my head, they might qualify as being in orbit. Again, that’s not a critique of the film – American movies do this often with no consideration for international audiences, especially with comedy – but it is a component that is lost for those of us on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and likely most outside of The Netherlands in general.
In all, Saint is a fitfully fun but rather unmemorable Christmas horror flick. It’s worth a watch for anyone looking to break up the more sugary holiday offerings with some zany bloodshed, but it’s not much of a prime candidate for annual revisits. Except the rooftop chase scene – that was exceedingly cool.