Once again the nights are drawing in, the country is a death trap because it snowed for one day of snow, and Trash or Treasure is doing its annual Christmas Onslaught of seasonally themed exploitation movies. The first present out of the chimney is a 2005 “what if Santa was a psycho?” comedic effort from director and writer David Steiman, which stars Goldberg from back when he had just quit the WWE. It’s also got a sleigh drawn by a pissed-off buffalo, which has the cutest little nose.
The key thing to note about this film is that it’s obsessively dedicated to making everything in it funny. If you find it funny pretty much falls to the question of “do you find a demonic Santa murdering a whole load of people in a small American town in a variety of ironic manners funny?”, but even if the answer is “no” then you can’t say the makers didn’t really try. It’s filled with little sight gags, absurdities, and non-sequesters (like a bunch of Hasidic Jews being mistaken for The Amish) on top of the main jokes, to a quantity (if not quality) to match Airplane!
It’s also got an incredible cast (with lots of Jewish actors celebrating Christmas, to up the irreverent humour) such as James Caan, Fran Dresher, genre stalwart Saul Rubinek, and Robert Culp as “Grandpa”. It’s also got two unknowns as the main characters, Nicolas and Mac, but they do a pretty good job of it. Everyone gives it their all, and surprisingly no one goes overboard. Even Bill Goldberg, who was undoubtedly hired for his physicality and literal ability to chew the scenery, brings subtlety to a role that is best described as “St Nicolas on bath salts”.
Having a believable evil Santa helps to sell the unbelievability of it all, along with the obligatory cockamamie mythos that gives the excuse for 80 minutes of childish mayhem. Santa was a demon that tricked into being nice for a millennium, and now that time is up so he’s going on a much-earned retribution bender. Whilst it doesn’t quite sit as right as it thinks it does, it’s workable and all the plot elements fold together quite neatly.
The story is as reasonable as it needs to be when it’s a vehicle for a variety of vicious violent vignettes. Santa is offing people, Mac and Nicolas are being chased by Santa in between extravagant set pieces with the supporting cast, and Grandpa is helping them with exposition dumps and a twist that is either nicely laid out or blindingly predictable. Act 3 starts a little weak as it’s clarifying the backstory and setting the new stakes for the big fight at the end, but that brawl is satisfying and silly so you’ll forgive it. Besides, if you didn’t switch off in the first 5 minutes you know you are along for the whole ride.
The biggest negative is the beartrap that a lot of such films fall into. For the humour to work, and for you to be fine with an average of one person getting killed with varying degrees of savagery and gore every 2 minutes, everyone involved has to be a bit shit. Some are worse than others, with a surprising amount of character-building taking place, but everyone is someone you’d rather not know. Grandpa gets to be nice, but that it’s. And whilst the dickery involves a delightful range of satirical, ironic, twisted, or just mildly objectionable behaviors, it still makes it hard to care about anyone on the screen. That will be a turn-off for some, and it reduces the dynamic range of the film.
But it’s 80 minutes of almost constant happenings, it looks great for its modest budget, and it just has a constant, albeit meanspirited, energy to it. It is, shockingly, as good as its trailer. It wants you to be entertained and it puts in the work, which puts it firmly in the Treasure category. Even if you’ll be worried you’ll get a lump of coal for laughing all the way through.