Santa Claws (1996)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2010-12-24 18:05

Written and Directed by: John Russo
Starring: Debbie Rochon, Grant Cramer, John Mowood, Karl Hardman, and Marilyn Eastman

Reviewed by: Brett G.

His Slay Bells Are Ringing!

Poor John Russo--not only is the guy often overlooked for his contributions to Night of the Living Dead, but his legacy in general is seemingly tarnished by much of his work since then. Sure, he helped to usher in Return of the Living Dead (which, let’s face it, is every bit as essential as a zombie film), but he’s also known as the guy who unleashed the much-reviled 30th Anniversary edition of Romero’s original film. He’s dropped other bombs along the way, one of which was Santa Claws, a mid-90s killer-Santa movie that’s really equal parts slasher and softcore porn, and wholly terrifying for all the wrong reasons.

As a child, Wayne was often given sleeping pills by his step-father, just to ensure the creepy old man would have plenty of alone time with Wayne’s mom. One Christmas Eve, the visions of sugar plums are apparently too much for him to handle, as he decides to murder his parents. Years later, he grows up to be obsessed with a famous “Scream Queen” (Rochon), who is currently going through a rough patch with her husband. Ever the opportunist, the deranged Wayne offers to help her out, and even takes the extra step of killing off everyone associated with her, including her greasy producers and fellow scream queens.

A steaming lump of coal if there ever was one, Santa Claws is fairly wretched and unentertaining once the absurdity wears off (which happens very quickly). There’s a moment in the film where Rochon’s character describes her movies as an excuse for guys to see naked girls. This, of course, mirrors exactly what’s going on in Santa Claws itself; it’d perhaps be a clever meta-fictional moment if the movie weren’t so obviously terrible, even in this regard. Sure, there’s plenty of skin involved, and we’re obviously the last place to complain about that, but one can only handle so many cheesy erotic photo-shoots that are just there to pad an already thin runtime. These scenes are often awkwardly inter-cut with more serious (okay, as serious as this movie can get) scenes, and the girls involved seem to be as bored as I was while watching them.

So, the movie at least delivers one of Joe Bob Briggs’s “three essential Bs” (breasts, and plenty of them), but what about blood? Precious little, which is a shame, because this awful cast (which actually features a couple NOTLD alums) deserves a bloodier and more painful send-off. What we get are some strangulations and plenty of bludgeonings via a garden claw (hence the film’s pun-ishingly cheesy title); it’s a pretty dry affair, with some kills even taking place off-screen (the cardinal sin for any crappy slasher movie). This is probably fitting since our killer, Wayne, is a goofy, Norman Bates-wannabe bastard who spouts wooden dialogue at his Debbie Rochon bust and pictures of his mom. To make matters worse, he’s only decked out in full Santa garb a couple of times, so the movie even fails woefully as a “killer Santa” movie. Don’t worry though--there’s some bad Christmas folk tunes thrown in to keep your spirits bright.

The film can’t really boast anything in lieu of the missing slasher tropes. There’s precious little atmosphere or suspense, and almost all of the humor falls flat. There is, of course, plenty of poor acting. When Troma vet Rochon is the film’s best hope, you can imagine what kind of hands you’re in. That’s not a knock on her--she’s expectedly lovely in her own charming, B-movie way, but that’s about all that can be said for the cast. Horror fans will recognize Bill Hinzman’s name as the film’s cinematographer--he was the first zombie that ever shambled his way through the infamous graveyard in Romero’s film. This movie suggests that he probably shouldn’t have quit his day job, as there’s not much to say about his effort here--it looks as cheap as you’d expect, though that’s an indictment of the production values as a whole.

Fans will also see a lot of posters and memorabilia for Russo’s past efforts strewn throughout--it’s almost as if he put as much effort into promoting those works as he put into the film itself. At any rate, Ei Independent Cinema and Shock-O-Rama thought Santa Claws was worthy of a “10th Anniversary DVD,” which is proof that just about anything is possible. When you unwrap the package, you’ll find a video transfer that’s just a step above VHS, though the stereo soundtrack fares better. Special features include outtakes, interviews with Rochon and Hinzman, and a full-color booklet with liner notes. However, there’s only one way to enjoy this one, and that‘s by laughing all the way as you Trash it!

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