Monday, December 19, 2005


Scary Santas

The book, The War on Christmas by John Gibson has struck a nerve this holiday season. Battles in this war have broken out around the country, including a grisly Santa display in Manhattan, in which a bloodied, knife wielding Santa holds a severed head in his hand. The display -- which was eventually ripped down by an ex-Marine who found it offensive -- made the front page of the New York Post and subsequently national news reports, on cable. The whole incident put me in mind of a series of Christmas "horror" films that demonize Santa. Christmas was horror's last taboo. But why, I wondered, did filmmakers feel the need to turn Santa into a monster. Were they traumatized as children, when they were made to sit in Santa's lap for a photo? Is it just that they don't like Christmas and want to bring it to the level of Halloween? Or is it just a droll, dark commentary on the commercialism of the holiday? After all Santa does have access to everyone's house. He has us on his list, and the song does say "you better watch out." (Hmm, that's starting to sound like the government.) In 1980's Christmas Evil, a boy's belief in St. Nick is shattered when he witnesses his mother "kissing" Santa Claus. As an adult, he becomes a toymaker in an attempt to spread Christmas cheer, but eventually snaps and, while dressed as Santa, murders "naughty" boys and girls instead. In the similarly themed Silent Night, Deadly Night, which hit theaters four years later, a troubled teenager (whose parents were murdered) goes on a murderous rampage, while dressed as Santa, due to his abusive stay at an orphanage. This film, which caused a certain level of controversy for its depiction of Santa a holding an ax while going down the chimney, was popular enough to spawn a slew of sequels. Now, just in time for this holiday season, the direct-to-video effort Santa's Slay, portrays Santa as an evil spirit who lost a bet, forcing him to be jolly and hand out toys. But when the bet ends, he returns to his evil ways. No doubt, if this "war" on Christmas continues, these films will serve as ammunition fodder for one side or the other. But it's been 25 years now since the scary Santa hit the screen. Will a renewed focus on all things Christmas help or hurt this most unusual of film sub-genres?

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