Funnily enough, I don’t hit the hay with visions of sneakers dancing in my head. That’s because sports footwear is my day job. I’m in it for cash and freebies. It’s not some fanboy zeppelin that runs on raw footwear enthusiasm. No, no, no. Truth be told, I’m more enthused by horror flicks than lumps of poorly-glued pleather, and because it’s Christmas, what could be better than a blog post cash-in to leach some of that goodwill? Last year, my rubbernecking preoccupation with the macabre was fuelled by the darker than dark case of Bruce Pardo, who dressed up as Santa and went on a Christmas eve killing spree, armed with firearms and a homemade flamethrower. Horrific, but it tapped into my cinematic Santa Claus fears.
Billy Bob’s ‘Bad Santa’ perfectly captured into that temp job, thinly disguised seediness that shopping centre Santas maintain; they’re sinister in their faux-bearded pretence, feigning interest in talk of PSPs and GI Joe, before handing out 99p tat. Even in history, the early Netherlands St. Nick (Sinterklaas) rolled with a captured devil (without sounding like David Icke, it’s curious that the big man’s name is an anagram of ‘Satan’), latterly Zwarte Piet (‘Black Peter’), depicted as a Moorish sidekick; meaning an excuse for blackface makeup. Beat that for un-PC. It’s a long way from a chuckling rotund man in a magic workshop on some snowy plain. Santa was clearly a prick from day one.
When George “the genius” Lois put the great Sonny Liston on the front of Esquire’s December 1963 issue in full Father Christmas garb, white Amerikkka got pissed off. They didn’t want a black man in that position. While he’s (whisper it) a fictional figure, often he’s treated with the same curious reverence and taboo as equally fictional religious heroes. That’s why I get a kick out of Santa going really, really bad onscreen. The Grinch and Jack Skellington don’t count – they were, as both tales revealed, just misguided. Dan Ackroyd eating a fish through a beard in ‘Trading Places’ isn’t evil either – just spectacularly down on his luck. And Phoebe Cates’ old man in ‘Gremlins’ was just accident-prone, leaving him decaying in the chimney.
For truly bad Santas, check 1980’s ‘Christmas Evil,’ where in a curious psycho sexual turn of events, a boy sees his dad dressed as Santa feeling his mum up, becomes a toy maker then starts killing those who’ve been bad while dressed as Mr. Claus. Dirt cheap, it’s a curious little b-movie that somehow swerved the seasonal bad will that the next psycho Santa flick amassed.
1984’s ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’ is a cash-in slasher, where another disturbed boy grows up to go on a red-suited rampage. With a nifty ending and some cried of “Naughty!” to justify bloodshed, as was the horror habit of the time, there’s a sleigh full of shitty sequels, many have a Santa-suit murderer – I recall one has a killer Santa toy. Siskel and Ebert were furious at the film for existing, and aired out all the folk behind it – “Your profits truly are blood money.” That’s a little strong.
The same year as ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’ Edmund Purdom’s (with two other directors involved during the troubled production) British horror ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’ turns the tables on Santa, with store versions of the man himself being slaughtered in gory fashion by a serial killer. ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ writer John Russo had a funny five minutes when he wrote and directed 1996’s ‘Santa Claws.’ It stinks. Crazed fan stalks woman dressed as Santa, wielding a claw hammer. WWE wrestler Bill Goldberg as a demon Father Christmas in 2005’s ‘Santa’s Slay’ is goofy but fun. Sadly it didn’t spark off a Santa horror renaissance.
The greatest Christmas horror (bar Bob Clark’s non psycho Santa ‘Black Christmas’ and maybe the Grither in the ‘Tales From The Darkside’ episode, ‘Seasons Of Belief’) and nastiest Santa is lifted from the pages of EC’s ‘Vault Of Horror’ title. Issue 35 to be exact, dated March 1954. Artist and writer Johnny Craig was a master of morality tales – ‘And All Through The House’ is a nasty little story with a killer payoff. Alongside the antics of Thornton, Murray and Chevy, I always make sure I watch an adaptation of this story each year. For those that don’t know, I’ll keep it vague – all you need to know is that after killing her husband for some kind of insurance payout, a housewife has an extremely bad night thanks to some ill-timing on an epic scale.
Craig’s original story is short and snappy. It would benefit from being slightly more fleshed out without losing that tautness, and that’s what two screen takes on it do. 1972’s ‘Tales From The Crypt’ anthology has a very British version starring Joan Collins that, like all three interpretations, cuts to the chase fast, remaining lean and extremely campy. At a push, the HBO ‘Tales From The Crypt’ episode from 1989 is my favourite. Larry Drake (of ‘Darkman’ fame and Dr. Giggles’ non-fame) seems to be having fun, it’s more brutal, is played for black comedy, and with Fred Dekker (‘Night Of The Creeps’ and ‘The Monster Squad’) scripting and Robert Zemeckis directing, is an instant classic. ‘The Polar Express’ it isn’t.
Below are links to the video. I recommend watching the top two first for the superior version, and true festive cheer. Happy holidays!