Monday, January 7, 2013

Heinous for the Holidays: 35-16 FATHER CHRISTMAS CODE (1989)

I rambled a little bit about subversive Christmas movies, but I think this one might be the actually the most subversive of the lot. Fun, dark and surprisingly edgy French film that I think may have been aimed at the family crowd. I say, "I think" because there is so much in this movie that would absolutely horrify American parents (who flipped out over something as innocuous as PARANORMAN), that at times I wonder what the target demographic actually was. Of course, these are the French we're talking about, so they probably felt it would be character building for their kids to be exposed to the darker side of Christmas. Good for them.

Ten year-old Thomas (Alain Lalanne), son of single mom toy store tycoon, is left alone in the mansion on Christmas to mind after grandpa and the dog while mom takes care of business on the holiday. Thomas, like all boys of that name, is a suuuu-per genius and can fix cars, write computer programs, dresses up like Schwarzenegger from COMMANDO (1985) and plays war-games around the mansion with his dog. Mom, to make sure he goes to bed by himself, tells Thomas on the phone that "you mustn't try to see Santa or he will turn into an ogre!" Uhhh, thanks mom, I'll sleep just fine now.

After his friend tells him that Santa isn't real, Thomas decides to prove him wrong, hops on a BBS (the precursor of the internets) and chats with someone who claims to be Santa. Thomas may be a genius, but damn that boy ain't too smart! Of course this Santa is deranged lunatic using a public pay-phone style PC (the future!). After craftily finding out where Thomas lives, enters the house through the chimney with soft lights and tinkling Christmas music and stabs Thomas' dog in the throat, in front on the boy. Holy crap! This movie just stuck it's thumb in Christmas' eye! Thomas gears up for war and a cat and mouse "game" through the mansion is on.

This stylish, subversive outing is almost a bullet list of how not to make an American film. The film opens with a snow-globe containing the Eiffel tower being crushed under a tire while Christmas music tinkles in the background - imagine if that had been the Statue of Liberty. In TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 13, sure, no problem. In a family Christmas movie? Yahoo movie reviewers would be screaming "pinko socialists" before the end of the first reel. The single mom as a successful, wealthy business magnate? Yeah, right! Never happen in Hollywood. Single moms are usually on the poverty line, or maybe working for the man, but are always struggling, waiting for the right guy, and they never put the job before their adorable child, who probably has some sort of medical affliction. Family pet stabbed in the throat by Santa Claus on Christmas? In a family movie? Never, ever, ever happen. Ever. A ten year old using a dead policeman's firearm to shoot someone? No way. At one point Thomas is stabbed, complete with blood gushing from the wound and during a surprisingly intense sequence, Thomas must avoid Santa while trying to find some insulin for his diabetic grandfather who is on the verge of death and trapped inside a suit of armor. Not exactly the wacky holiday hijinx you'd expect from a Christmas movie.

Director RenĂ© Manzor started his career with THE PASSAGE (1986), an attempt to re-invigorate Alain Delon's career, before descending down into the American and French television abyss. I wonder if even Manzor knew exactly what he was going for in this film, alternating between a pre-teen DIE HARD send-up (Thomas is barefoot during the entire event braving broken glass and snow) and a twisted home-invasion horror film. It feels difficult to navigate at times with wide swings in emotion taking place on a regular basis. One thing is for sure, it is definitely not a fluffy, feel-good Christmas comedy that would inspire merchandising for years to come... Not, at least, until Hollywood got a hold of it.

Hey! What is Nick Kitley doing in this movie?
There are no two ways about it; Chris Columbus and John Huges blatantly ripped this flick off for HOME ALONE (1990). Of course they scrubbed and sanitized every single square inch of this concept until it glistened like tinsel on a Macy's tree and was completely safe for American consumption. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the numbers in the title are the French information. In the US we could dial 411 for information, in France you would dial 3516. I guess that's why the title was changed where ever it was released. So, awkward title and a very non-Fox and Friends idea of the Yuletide, and it's no surprise that it has never seen the light of day in the US. It's a shame a genre-friendly DVD purveyors haven't picked this up, it will definitely be part of my annual Christmas movie rotation.

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