By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Kid versus Santa Claus.
Thomas (Alain Lalanne) is a 10-year-old who’s a wiz with computers and technology. Not only has he set various booby traps throughout the large mansion that he lives in with his mother (Brigitte Fossey), but he can fix cars and even drive them. Despite being super smart he still believes in Santa Claus while his friend Pilou (Stephane Legros) tries to convince him that he isn’t real. Thomas goes on the computer in an attempt to communicate with Santa, but instead gets a vagrant (Patrick Floersheim) on the other end pretending to be the jolly red fellow. He gets Thomas to give out his address and also reveal that his mother is a rich corporate CEO. The vagrant goes to his mother’s company and gets a job as a Santa, but is soon fired by her when he slaps a child. In revenge the vagrant, still in his Santa costume, goes to Thomas’ house where he plans to kill him, but Thomas uses his technical ingenuity to set a trap.
The film is an unusual hybrid between playful children’s comedy, a holiday film, and a slasher horror, which only could’ve been made in France where filmmakers aren’t under a repressive studio system that forces all scripts to conform to a cookie-cutter formula and here allows them to deviate between genres. Many have labeled this the original Home Alone and in-fact writer/director Rene Manzor threatened to sue John Hughes, who had directed the other one, insisting that he had essentially remade his film without permission. There are though quite a few differences between the movies to the extent that I didn’t think it was an unauthorized remake at all. If anything it reminded me more of another French classic Le Jout, about a rich kid living in a big place with a wide assortment of toys. This is also the best of the killer Santa movies as You Better Watch Out and Silent Night, Deadly Night took themselves too seriously while this one has a playful edge that manages to be both amusing and tense.
The kid certainly has an engaging quality and his love for his elderly grandfather (Louis Ducreux) is quite endearing, but he’s also just a bit too smart. I was okay with him being keen on the gadgetry, but having him get underneath a car and able to not only fix it, but also drive it was going too far. I wasn’t sure that a 10-year-old could reach the pedals with his feet and still be able to see over the dashboard. Part of what makes horror movies intense is having a victim appear vulnerable, but right away with the kid being so incredibly ingenious it makes the odds stacked against the killer and thus their cat-and-mouse game not as intriguing. I also really couldn’t stand the kid’s mullet haircut.
The home is over-the-top as well. It gets referred to as a mansion, but really seems more like a castle that’s bigger than anything I’ve seen anyone else, even the billionaires and celebrities, reside in. It doesn’t even seem like a real place, but instead, in certain shots, a miniature model and at other points a painting. All the secret rooms gets a bit dizzying including the hidden one that can be entered via an old refrigerator (are they really expecting us to believe that a 10-year-old kid, no matter how smart he is, could build that?). Another moment has Thomas getting trapped inside a life sized maze, but who the hell would take the time and effort to build a maze in their very own home, which again ends up getting too creative for its own good and negates the tension instead of enhancing it.
The Santa character is a boring. Usually horror movies make an effort to give the psycho, whether it’s through flashback or dialogue, some sort-of backstory, but here this guy pops-up without any idea of who he is, where he’s from, or why he’s so crazy. There’s also a few segments where he gets caught in a trap, like when he falls through a trap door and stuck in a net, but no shot showing how he got out of the predicament. Seeing how he gets himself out should’ve been shown each time (it’s shown in a few scenarios, but not all) in order to make the plot seem more reality based and less cartoonish.
Overall, despite the over-direction, it’s still a fun, wild ride that could be enjoyed by the whole family. It does get a bit intense at times, but the quick-thinking kid always seems to be pretty much in-control. Outside of the pet dog getting stabbed none of the other killings are seen and only the feet of the dead bodies are captured on camera to represent their demise, which should make it palatable for most kids to sit through without having nightmares afterwards.
Alternate Titles: 36.15 code Pere Noel, Game Over
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: March 18, 1989
Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes
Director: Rene Manzor
Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)