Sunday, December 3, 2017

December to Dismember: SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES (2010)

Remember when you were a kid how exciting Christmas morning was? How you couldn’t wait to open all those cool presents you knew you were getting, but you also had to open the “standard” stuff like a toothbrush and clothes. Don’t get me wrong. As an adult I appreciate everything I receive, but as a kid you couldn’t wait to tear open the latest STAR WARS toy. But first you had to deal with stuff like tan corduroy pants. SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES is the cinematic equivalent of tan corduroy pants.

The film opens with Phil (Claude Miles) and Jen (Alex Del Monacco) expecting company for Christmas dinner. Attendees include Jen’s daughter Randy (Kayla Perkins) and boyfriend Todd (John Cory Stringer), Jen’s parents Dick and Dora, and Phil’s daughter Cass (Cassidy Rae Owens). The latter is a bit of a troublemaker as she is delivered home by the school principal after causing an explosion in science class (remember this!). While everyone is in the kitchen, Todd turns on the radio and a news bulletin mentions people nationwide are having reactions to the diet drug dopatrihydrozine (remember this!). Also, nerdy Phil gets a new carburetor for his car project and goes with Cass to work on it (remember this!). Jen apparently takes Christmas VERY seriously as she has hired a Santa Claus (Billy W. Blackwell) and three elves to hang out in the family home for pictures. Either these people are really weird...or my family has been doing Xmas wrong for a long time.

Anyway, tensions erupt over the evening when Dick casually mentions he bought Phil’s little computer repair business and wants to install Todd as the manager. Phil naturally freaks out and throws his in-laws out (it’s a Christmas miracle!). While at the front door, Dick and Dora are attacked by a random dead dude and it is on. Yup, the “carb crave killer pill” has been turning folks into the undead. A horde of zombies descend upon the house and all hell breaks loose until Santa falls out the front door and the zombies stop attacking because they “recognize” him. He is brought back into the house and everything is boarded up (naturally, shown offscreen). Later, Dave (Dave Haney) - one of the elves who thinks he is a real elf - theorizes that Santa must be the real Santa because, uh, yeah. When a zombie breaks into the house, Santa finally discovers his (snow)balls and takes the thing out. Hey, maybe he is the real deal.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Lucius T. Moore (Tony Armstrong) is holed up in his bunker getting updated on the worldwide crisis. He is told an estimated 30 million people in the United States are now brain dead husks of flesh who only act on their base instincts. Soooooo, how is this any different from normal America? General Dornan (Reaper M. Jones, if that is your real name) has set up the Z.E.N. (Zombie Eradication and Neutralization) Force and advocates the nuclear option to handle the undead problem. All of this changes when the Emergency Broadcast Network (apparently run by one guy in a small room) gets in touch with Phil via his ham radio. When informed Santa Claus is among the group, the President decides to rescue them to lift America’s morale (“What better Christmas gift to give the American people than rescuing Santa and his elves?”). Jesus, don’t let Trump ever hear of this plan. Dornan has other ideas and targets missiles meant to eradicate the zombies to Phil’s house because, well, fuck Santa, right? Actually, the dubious General is planning a coup because that is what dubious Generals do in times of war.

Things at Phil’s household haven’t been going too well either. Todd turned zombie and bit Randy, who also quickly turns and gets her mother. Thankfully, just as this zombie duo is about to attack Santa and Cass a bomb hits the house, making Santa think he really does have magical powers. Hey, isn’t this film called SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES? Any chance we can get some of that action going on? While the President handles the coup attempt, Phil’s crew head in the garage to fix his truck and use his daughter’s brains to construct a zombie cannon. Aren’t you glad I asked you to remember all that stuff earlier in the review? The President - whose daughter is playing with a "pet" zombie - tells them to make it to the high school for a helicopter rescue. Will this ragtag crew make it? And will Santa ever fight some zombies?

Born in the bowels of Kentucky, SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES comes from the mind of writer-director George Bonilla. His name actually sounded familiar to me and, amazingly, I had seen his first directing efforts in the shot-on-video horror anthology PIECES OF DARKNESS (1989). He did two segments in that and I was so impressed I deemed it “totally worthless unless you want to see late 80s Tennessee captured on video” in my IMDb review. Well going across state lines (, witness protection?) apparently doesn’t help as Bonilla’s low budget effort from 21 years later is just as bad. Now don’t get me wrong - just because something is low budget doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and well made. Hell, look at A CADAVER CHRISTMAS (2011) that I reviewed a few years back. That was tons of fun and exploited a great idea to its fullest potential. This film has the germ of a great idea but fails on every level to get the most out of it. Seriously, close your eyes and imagine a zany movie done in a Sam Raimi style with a Santa Claus running around bashing zombies. That would be awesome, right? Well, now close your eyes and imagine a film where Santa doesn’t start taking on zombies until the 92 minute mark of a 99 minute movie. And that action basically involves Santa shooting some zombies in the butt with his super-cannon gun and then kicking one in the nuts. Anybody going in with visions of ass-kicking Santa in their head will be sorely disappointed.

Like I said, there is the seed of a great film here. Unfortunately it wasn’t within Bonilla’s grasp. At one point the President says of the rescue efforts: “I want something...anything...good to come from this.” You and me both, pal. Bonilla’s handling of the execution is so poor that I almost started to feel sorry for him. Who sets a movie in the dead of winter, yet captures trees in full bloom in the background? Sure, they filter on some computer snowflakes and whistling wind sounds during the (few) outdoor scenes, but failing to capture the winter mood is a big no-no-no. Of course, we are talking about a filmmaker who does a bombing scene with no explosions. Also, the including of the subplot with the President and his war-hungry General drags the film down. Bonilla obviously has seen DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) but it is hard to pull off that kind of Kubrick-ian parody of war room dynamics when you have actors straight out of Kentucky community theater. All I wanted for Christmas is a simple movie my brain dreamed up when I saw the (admittedly) great title - bad ass Santa wandering around with a baseball bat, flamethrower, machete, shotgun or something and taking it to the zombie masses. Instead I got a movie filled with scenes like the one where Santa cries to the EBN guy about not fitting in with his family and their dry cleaning business. Yes, really. There is also a subversive and visceral joy to be culled from a diet drug gone awry plot. Think BODY MELT (1993). Imagine people suddenly foaming at the mouth as they turn into zombies. Nope, none of that here. Just standard ol’ “slap on some grease paint” on 99% of the zombies appearing. Hell, this movie is so damn cheap that they make a big plot point about fixing Phil’s car to get to the rescue point...and they never show the car once! All that said, I hate to end on such a negative note so let me point out the one genuine moment I got a chuckle out of this film. When the President is being briefed on how all the digital communications are down, he suggests going to an analog signal. One underling responds they can’t and says, “We told everyone to get rid of their analog sets. It wasn’t green enough.” That is the one silver lining on these tan corduroys.

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