Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Santa's Slay" guilty pleasure, "Satan's Little Helper" a twisted disappointment



Santa's Slay (2005) 
78 min., rated R.
Grade: C +

Santa Claus is real! And he's offing those naughty and nice. WCW wrestler Bill Goldberg gets top billing as Santa, the Son of Satan of course, in "Santa's Slay," a demented snowball of tongue-in-cheekiness. In the name of guilty-pleasure B-movies, the opening is inspired with a cheeky, sickly amusing payoff: Evil Santa pays a visit through the chimney of a squabbling, snobby family for a Christmas dinner slaying (including Fran Drescher, James Caan, Chris Kattan, and Rebecca Gayheart). Then in Hell Township, a teenage boy (Douglas Smith) and his would-be girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin) learn from his crazy old gramps (Robert Culp), who has a military bunker in his basement, the scary truth about Santa. You see, 1,000 years ago, Santa lost a game of curling to an archangel (told in Rankin-Boss stop-motion animation), so now he's pissed and out for revenge. Santa takes out a bunch of carolers, there's death by menorah, Santa says “hoes, hoes, hoes” to strippers, and a grandpa gets run over by a reindeer (har har). 

With "Santa's Slay," camp trumps criticism. First-time writer-director David Steiman, Brett Ratner's former assistant director, is obviously not taking a bit of this seriously, with a brisk pace and a greasy, twisted sense of humor. Though Goldberg does spout a lot of Yuletide-themed one-liners that earn groans. As far as silly Killer Santa Movies go, it's a mindless hoot, but only for the not-easily-offended who get their jollies off to mild gore and some Santa naughtiness. 



Satan's Little Helper (2004) 
100 min., rated R.
Grade: C

Screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, "Satan's Little Helper" then went directly to DVD shelves. Does it deserve such a thankless release? Well, it is better made than others of its hacky-horror ilk but also a twisted little horror-comic effort only the most devoted, undemanding genre fan will adore. 

Nine-year-old Dougie (Alexander Brickel) is obsessed with violent video games, Halloween, and especially Satan. So much in fact that he's dressed as the Prince of Darkness himself. He and his dippy mother (the perpetually quirky Amanda Plummer) eagerly await the arrival of his college-aged sister Jenna (Katheryn Winnick), whom he wants to marry (!). Disappointed that his own sister has brought a new boyfriend along with her, Dougie runs off into the neighborhood before trick-or-treating. He comes across a man dressed in a Devil mask and a black trenchcoat, going from house to house killing someone and leaving their body like a front-yard decoration. Without realizing that the acts are real murders, Dougie asks to be the maniac's little helper and with a shake of the head and a thumbs up, Satan Man lets Dougie follow him on his rampage. 

Written and directed by cult filmmaker Jeff Lieberman (1976's "Squirm"), "Satan's Little Helper" is violently over-the-top but throws us off with a silly-sadistic sense of humor. It's difficult grasping what response Lieberman asks from us when Satan Man pushes a cheering Dougie in a grocery cart through the parking lot, running over a pregnant lady, a baby carriage, and a blind man (in that order). For a film set during Halloween, it definitely captures an atmosphere for the October holiday. The low budget is apparent by the digital-video production values, generic musical score, and rubber, ketchup-red intestines. 

As Dougie, Brickel has to be the most annoying kid actor playing the most na├»ve kid character. Winnick makes for a likable heroine, while Plummer gets to look like a fool dressed as a Chiquita Banana girl with a fruit basket on her head, then wrapped tightly in cellophane. Though his face is never shown nor does he ever speak a line of dialogue, Joshua Annex is perfectly mischievous and creepy with only his body language to go by as Satan Man. Once the moronic twists start piling up in the final act, it becomes mighty predictable and pointless, even for a horror-comedy. 

With a tighter script, a less smackable child actor, and more experienced direction, "Satan's Little Helper" could've been something special rather than occasionally amusing, completely disposable backshelf fare. 

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