Fact: There is nothing particularly new or original about the idea of a homicidal Santa in the realm of horror cinema.
Everyone has heard of 1984’s Silent Night Deadly Night, but there are many other examples of this trope. Four years prior to Silent Night Deadly Night was 1980’s Christmas Evil, which also had a psycho in a Santa suit at the heart of its story.Even earlier than that was 1974’s Black Christmas. While Black Christmas, considered by many to be one of the earliest examples of the slasher genre, didn’t have a killer Claus — or at least one that dressed up as such — it still used the holiday of Christmas as an effective backdrop to its lurid tale of murder and mayhem. You can even argue that, despite implicitly having a person dressed as the “jolly red elf” offing victims, Black Christmas still had a killer Santa in spirit.
To horror fans, the killer Santa character is a Christmas tradition as enduring as stockings by the fireplace, big family dinners, uncles getting drunk on eggnog, children whining because you bought them the wrong color action figure, crowded department stores … all that stuff that makes Christmas “special.”
I don’t understand why killer Santa isn’t more mainstream. Santa, as he’s been portrayed, is a frightening concept — and not just for folks whose fragile little minds have been so warped by scary movies that they can turn virtually anything into nightmare material. “He sees you when you’re sleeping”? “He knows when you’re awake”? “He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sakes“? “For goodness sakes”? Or what? That’s not just a veiled threat. Those sound like the words of someone who has direct knowledge of this man’s methods — his motivations. And, by the way, breaking into someone’s house is a criminal offense. It’s burglary.
“ZOMG! WHY YOU BE DISRESPECTIN SANTA CLAUZ! HE BRINGZ PRESENTZ!”
Yeah … but what if one day Santa decides that he’s had enough of giving and not getting back? Here’s a total stranger — disregarding the fact that he’s SPOILER ALERT make believe — who can get past any security system, who can get through any obstacle and into your home. No one knows the real Santa Claus. We know the myths, which — by the way — vary considerably depending on where your from. And in some of those stories, Santa doesn’t just reward the good — he punishes the bad.
You know what? Someone should really make a horror movie about this Santa Claus guy!
Indeed, like 99 percent of other killer Santa flicks, the idea that Kris Kringle is no mere pacifist but a vengeful god who strikes down sinful boys and girls/men and women of the world is the premise taken by Japanese director Yamaguchi Yudai in his short film, The Present. The film opens with a little girl named Yuko being tucked into bed by her parents, who share with her the legend of Santa Claus. Santa, according to Yuko’s mom and pop, is strong, has bright blue eyes and protects you from your nightmares.
“But if you do anything wrong, he’ll come and get you,” they add.
Uhm … what?
Fast forward a decade or so. Yuko is now a woman, and along with two of her girlfriends and three blokes, wind up at a “Love Motel” bedecked with holiday decorations on Christmas Eve. The owner is a bearded blue-eyed man who seems ominously familiar. Could it be? Rather than head for the nearest Motel 6, the group chooses the stay the night and finds out soon enough the true nature of the hotel’s manager after “desecrating” the holiday of Christmas with their sinful fornication.
Using a spiked kusarigama, the hotel owner/satanic Santa makes mincemeat (a Christmas tradition!) out of Yuko’s friends, feeding their brains to use reindeer. All of this, in true Japanese cinematic fashion, is shown in nauseating detail.
In theory, The Present should be a fun little addition to the homicidal Santa genre. In reality, the constant gore for the sake of gore gets tedious. Worse yet, Yudai’s insistence on making The Present more than just a movie about Santa Claus murdering people seriously brings it down. You’re constantly bombarded you with pointless flashbacks and surrealist imagery, all of which sort of makes sense when you get to the movie’s disappointingly predictable conclusion. And even if it sort of makes sense, it’s still a disappointingly predictable conclusion. It also doesn’t really make sense. It just “sort of” makes sense.
Overall, the killer Santa to bullshit ratio is a little too stacked in favor of bullshit for me to recommend this to anyone aside from fans of Japanese horror, whose tolerance for shit-that-doesn’t-make-sense is somewhat higher than the average cinephile.