On the surface, Horror films and Christmas might seem to make odd bedfellows, but the contrast of a murderous rampage set against what is supposed to be a joy filled time of year just seems to amplify the fear. Case in point, the original Black Christmas (1974), which stands as one of my all-time horror faves, slowly transformed a cheerful sorority house in the midst of the holiday season into a dark tomb with an unknown menace lurking in the shadows of Christmas trees and tinsel.
I took in the world premiere of one of the newest entries in the holiday horror genre (is that a thing?) recently at Blood in the Snow Film Festival in Toronto. The Nights Before Christmas is quite different from slow burning Black Christmas, telling a graphic, gory tale of a maniacal Santa Claus and his faithful spouse Mrs. Claus who deliver something much worse than coal to those they deem to be naughty. I was a bit apprehensive walking into this as it is the sequel to a film called Once Upon a Time at Christmas (2017) which I hadn’t seen but the filmmakers did a good job at efficiently recapping the first film to provide backstories of the characters for first timers to the franchise.
Directed by Paul Tanter who co-wrote the film with Simon Phillips (who also plays the role of Santa), The Nights Before Christmas is a gift for fans of slashers. Mr. and Mrs. Claus pick up where they apparently left off in the first film, returning to the town of Woodridge after staging a blood soaked escape from a psychiatric hospital where they weren’t exactly treated hospitably. Courtney, a central surviving character from the first film (played by Keegan Chambers), had left her hometown for the big city in order to escape her ghosts of Christmas past and is lured back to Woodridge through a sinister plot by Santa himself so he can finish what he started.
Accompanying Santa on his journey is Mrs. Claus, played with an over-the-top maniacal enthusiasm by Sayla de Goede. Whenever Mrs. Claus is on screen you’re bound to be entertained as de Goede does an excellent job making her deranged character interesting as she disposes of unfortunate souls that come between her and Santa’s goal. Her character reminded me somewhat of Sheri Moon Zombie’s Baby character from the House of 1000 Corpses franchise but I found de Goede’s character more entertaining to watch (particularly compared to Baby in the disappointing 3 From Hell).
Simon Phillips deserves credit for making his deranged Santa character interesting as well. Let’s be honest, there’s not really a lot of depth you can bring to a character who’s main goal is to slaughter as many people as possible while wearing a red velvet suit but Phillips brings a certain energy and charisma to the role and for some reason you can’t help but root for him. In one memorable scene, Santa dis“members” an obnoxious executive in the company bathroom and makes what could have been a cringeworthy act into a good laugh for the audience.
Although I would primarily call The Nights Before Christmas a slasher, it can also be considered a dark comedy as it never takes itself too seriously. It generates laughs with many of the absurdly gratuitous ways characters get knocked off and the over top performances of Mr. and Mrs. Claus. From time to time, the film pokes fun at all the stereotypical characters and plotlines of slasher films. The funniest scene of the movie comes when the FBI agent (played by Kate Schroder) who is pursuing the crazy Clauses deadpans “Don’t bother, they’re all dead” when someone tries to contact the police who were transporting Mrs. Claus in a prisoner escort that always seems to go wrong in these type of films.
The Nights Before Christmas is by no means a masterful horror/slasher/holiday film but I found it surprisingly entertaining and worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a lot of blood and few laughs over the holidays (and who isn’t?)
Oddly, as of Christmas Eve this film still hasn’t been officially released but more information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/christmaskills/.