(A.k.a. SINT)

There aren’t enough Killer Santa films. When you think about it, a fat bearded stranger who sneaks into your home in the dead of night for the sole purpose of putting a smile on children’s faces while they sleep ... it’s quite a sinister proposition, and one that’s ripe for the horror genre to explore further.

SAINT addresses this shortage by tackling the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, an old guy who folklore claims would reward well-behaved children with toys and candy on his own birthday, December 5th. From this legend came the widely held belief in what’s now known worldwide as Santa Claus. But, according to SAINT, there is more to the story of Sinterklaas than we initially thought...

The film opens in the olden times, with a small village being terrorised one winter by Bishop Niklas (Huub Stapel) and his henchmen, who ride in on horseback and smash down doors, attempting to steal from the locals’ homes. The villagers revolt with an array of weapons including arrows, pitchforks and spades: this culminates in the Bishop’s apparent demise, on board a burning ship.

Then we fast-forward to December 5th, 1968. Young Goert is sent out of the family farmhouse to check on the wailing pigs in their pen. While he’s nipped out, his siblings are butchered by something unseen, right in front of their disbelieving parents’ eyes. Goert returns to find the house a scene of mass carnage, his folks also having been slaughtered.

And so we’re propelled to Amsterdam, in the present day. Frank (Egbert Jan Weeber) is dumped very publicly by his girlfriend Natasha (Madelief Blanken). As he storms off on his motorcycle, she walks home with friends Lisa (Caro Lenssen) and Laura. It turns out that Natasha has been having an affair for the last three months with one of Frank’s buddies. But that’s not all they discuss – Natasha also reveals to Lisa an old legend which dictates that each time there is a full moon due on December 5th, St Nicholas comes out to kill as many kids and adults he can lay his hands on. To be more precise, "he cuts your throat and then rips your heart out with his bare hands".

Yikes. Would you believe it, it’s December 5th as they speak ... and it’s the first time there’s been a full moon on that date since the night a young Goert witnessed his family being wiped out. Sure enough, it’s not long before night falls and this small group of student friends begin to succumb one-by-one to the evil, now-charred Santa.

Naturally, with his friends and ex-girlfriend’s mates dropping dead around him, Frank becomes the prime suspect for these crimes. But one person who thinks he knows better is Goert (Bert Luppes), who has grown up to be a police detective. The only problem is, his boss refuses to listen to his insistence that the myth of Niklas is real, and suspends him from the force until the festive period is over.

And so, it is left to Frank and the increasingly edgy Goert to stop Niklas and his murderous zombie henchmen ...

You may remember SAINT’s writer-director Dick Maas from the 1980s, and specifically his celebrated Euro-horror treats THE LIFT and AMSTERDAMNED. Both – especially the latter – were well-balanced, extremely efficient mash-ups of dark humour and satisfying genre goodness.

Since then he’s done little of real note. He worked in TV both in Europe and America for a few years, before returning to the big screen with 1999’s comedy thriller DO NOT DISTURB. Despite its excellent cast (William Hurt; Jennifer Tilly; Dennis Leary) the film failed to capture the imaginations of neither critics nor fans. 2001’s DOWN fared slightly better (most likely due to the fortunate casting of then-rising star Naomi Watts). It even received a limited theatrical run in the UK.

But it seemed like Maas’ time had been and gone, his career having peaked early with those aforementioned cult horror hits. 2007’s Dutch-language comedy KILLER BABES appeared to be the final nail in the ailing filmmaker’s coffin.

But, happily, he’s back and SAINT goes some way to marking a return to Maas’ best form.

Firstly, it’s good to report that this is a fast-paced, flab-free piece of taut filmmaking. The dialogue is wise and snappy, the jokes work and the action is kept regular. Editing is tight and the highly stylish visuals ensure the film always engages, even during its (brief) quieter sequences.

Production-wise, the film looks superb. Well-lit, colourful and totally understanding of the fairytale-like aura of Christmastime, SAINT at times recalls the aesthetics of Guillermo Del Toro’s foreign language fantasies. Bear in mind though, expectations should be adjusted in this respect to compensate for the fact that Maas is working with a very different budget to Del Toro’s ...

Performances are solid and likeable throughout, and Maas’ tone is as shrewd as ever. While he keeps the comedy funny (if only gently for the most part), he remains a dab hand at seamlessly shifting into horror territory. The tension mounts successfully on frequent occasion, and there’s even a fair quota of old-school splatter to be enjoyed.

Speaking of gore, a special mention must go out to Harrie Wiessenhaan’s FX – a mix of entertainingly crude prosthetics and corn syrup, and the odd foray into above-average CGI. Heads are split by axes, bodies are impaled and blood spurts in the manner of early Peter Jackson films during SAINT’s juiciest moments.

Elsewhere, the sight of blood on snow is always an aesthetic winner, as are the bevy of attractive young actresses Maas has cannily cast to sex his action up.

All in all, this is the best Christmas-themed horror since, oh I don’t know, the last one. In an all-too-small sub-genre, SAINT stands proudly among the likes of BLACK CHRISTMAS and SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT as one of the best entries – and would make a great double-bill with the recent RARE EXPORTS.

Metrodome’s DVD presents SAINT uncut in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is enhanced for 16x9 television sets and looks lovely. Colours are bold, blacks are solid and images are sharp without being enhanced. Clean and startlingly vibrant throughout, this is a top notch presentation for SAINT.

Audio comes in original Dutch 2.0. It’s a good, problem-free track. Maas’ own epic score is well-served and dialogue is evenly balanced against an imaginative sound design throughout. English subtitles are well-written and easily readable. Unfortunately they are forced.

An animated main menu page also makes rousing use of the film’s melodramatic score. From there, a static scene-selection menu allows access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for STAKE LAND, CHERRY TREE LANE and BATHORY.

Unfortunately these trailers are the closest we get to bonus features on this otherwise barren DVD.

It’s a shame Metrodome haven’t afforded Maas’ latest film anything in the way of extras, as it would’ve been great to have some insight into the making of this film – and the reasoning behind some of its wackier moments. Kudos to Metrodome though for employing the poster art that caused so much controversy (bafflingly) in the Netherlands, for their DVD release.

Despite the lack of extra features, Maas’ film is enormously entertaining, and it looks and sounds great here. Christmas starts early this year.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Metrodome Group
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review