Friday, December 6, 2013

December to Dismember: SAINT (2010)

Damn, it’s nearly a week into December and we haven’t rolled out any Christmas-themed reviews. Please accept our sincerest apologies. Truthfully, it is getting harder and harder to find stuff to review around this time of year as the Christmas horror output is pretty nil and we don’t want to be a blog boring you with yet another review of BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980), or SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984).  We try to strive for something a bit different and today’s flick definitely fits that bill.

True story: I spent most of the 1980s living in Germany thanks to my dad’s occupation.  We living in Berlin for 5 years and Munich for 3 years; both times we lived, as they said, “in the economy,” which meant our house was off base and among the Germans.  It was cool, but I’ll never forget when our German neighbors across the street told me about Saint Nikolaus.  See, I grew up on tales of jolly old Santa Claus, whose biggest offense against bad kids was leaving them a lump of coal.  St. Nikolaus was another deal.  As told to me by the German kids, you left one shoe out by your bedroom door on December 6th and St. Nikolaus would fill it with goodies if you had been a good boy or girl. But if you had been bad, he wouldn’t leave you coal.  He would burst into your room and throw you into a sack and kidnap you!  Yeah, ‘twas a stressful night.  At the time I didn’t know about the dark Pagan origins of our beloved Santa and never knew that St. Nick could be one brutal mofo.  This tradition continues to this day in Europe and provides the basis for Dick Maas’ 2010 killer Saint Nick flick, SAINT.

The film opens in December 1492 with Saint Niklas (Huub Stapel) and his men riding into a snowy village and taking money and children while leaving a demand for more.  The incensed villagers head to the Saint’s boat at night and burn him and his crew alive. Cut to December 1968 and a small family is enjoying the Sinterklaas activities with carols and television watching.  Young Goert is sent to check on the unruly pigs in the barn and spots a man on a horse on the roof.  He returns to house to find his family – from dad to his younger siblings – gorily slashed to bits. Damn, this is a pretty badass way to open a Christmas horror film.  Dick Maas is baas! We then cut to modern day Netherlands and a group of supposed college kids…ah, goddamn it.

This pack of annoying youngsters is first seen exchanging gifts in their classroom as pranks (apparently it is perfectly okay and normal to give girls dildos as the teacher mentions they broke the previous year’s record). Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber) is unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend Sophie (Escha Tanihatu), who doesn’t know he was sorta, kinda seeing her BFF Lisa (Caro Lenssen).  Damn, can we start the killing already?  On the way home, Sophie tells Laurie Strode…er, Lisa the legend behind St. Niklas attacking kids on a full moon.  Now why a Dutch girl in late teens/early twenties has never heard this story is beyond me.  Meanwhile, running around town is Christmas obsessed Dr. Loomis…er, grown up Christmas obsessed Goert (Bert Luppes).  He is now a cop and keeps wondering why his superiors aren’t acting on his inch-thick “St. Niklas is evil and going to kill us all this year” dossier.  To show you how serious this dude is, his first scene has him shooting a Xmas present left on his desk.  He’s serious.

Of course, Goert is put on administrative leave after that incident and it is bad news because his prediction is dead on.  It is another full moon tonight and that doesn’t bode well for our teens. The first to go are actually a couple of policemen who magically see the Saint’s burnt boat materialize in the harbor. Okay, Maas is letting us know he’s seen THE FOG (1979) as well. Naturally, the Saint and his “Black Peter” helpers first make their way to Sophie’s house and kill her while she is on the phone with Lisa. He then takes his murderous crew out to find Frank and his two pals, who are dressed as Saint Nick and his Black Peter helpers.  Frank is the only one that lives and drives smack into the police, who immediately suspect him of Sophie’s murder.  Meanwhile, the police chief starts getting reports of a creepy Saint figure riding on rooftops and sends his top man to go find Goert.  With Frank in custody, two cops see Saint Nick riding on the rooftops (in some really poorly done CGI work) and he literally falls into their laps when they shoot his horse, it falls through the ceiling into a gay couple’s home, collapses the floor, falls out the window, and smashes onto the squad car.  Again, Frank is the only one who survives and is almost killed by Saint Nick before being saved by Goert with a flamethrower. You see, this evil killer hates fire (understandable).  Naturally, Goert and Frank team up to blow up the Saint’s ship and end this evil once and for all.

Running a scant 85 minutes, SAINT (original title: SINT, US re-titling: SAINT NICK) is ten minutes of awesome followed by seventy-five minutes of tedium.  Director Dick Maas is probably best known to American viewers for his two 80s horror films: THE LIFT (1983) – which he remade in English as DOWN (2001) – and the excellent AMSTERDAMNED (1988). Both films showcased a guy with a real talent for composing great shots and a nice hand at handling action.  SAINT definitely benefits from the former, but falls flat on nearly every level after that.  The biggest mistake is obviously the scripting, which feels that that it can just throw the evil Saint into any scenario – such as the teen slasher framework here – and that is fine. Maas had a great opportunity to put the scary back in Saint Niklas but seems to botch the opportunity (interestingly, the film’s poster actually caused a fuss when it was first released).

What it really needed to do was concentrate on the cop character as he brings the most drama to the situation. Another mistake is the casting of Stapel, a veteran of every Maas production. When I first heard that the scenario would involve a cop chasing a zombiefied Saint Nick, I got jolly visions of Stapel speeding down the canals of Amsterdam, guns a blazing.  Instead, he is the villain, hidden under a ton of make up and not given a single line. Ouch.  As a result, we are stuck with annoying teens on screen for a majority of the running time and I think even the Dutch would be quickly fed up with these punks.  Even odder is the set up – Maas was obviously looking at John Carpenter’s work and you expect Lisa to be the “final girl” of the film.  Yet, oddly, she just disappears halfway through the film and only reappears toward the end.  I’d like to say it was Maas trying to get creative with the genre clich├ęs, but it isn’t.  To be fair, SAINT does have a few things going for it (the unique way he uses his staff to decapitate someone is awesome), but it is too much naughty and not enough nice.  Naturally, this means I have to throw Maas into a sack and beat him with a stick.

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