Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

3615 code Père Noël (1989)

... aka: Deadly Games
... aka: Deadly Games: Alone Against Santa Claus
... aka: Dial Code Santa Claus
... aka: Game Over
... aka: Hide and Freak

Directed by:
René Manzor

You know from the opening shot of a garbage truck running over a snow globe that this isn't going to be your average, everyday Christmas movie. In many regards, young Thomas ("Alain Musy" / Alain Lalanne) is just like any other kid. He loves computers, video games, his dog, Rambo and fantasy role-playing games. He also still believes in Santa Claus, but he's at that age where children start questioning the logic behind it and start hearing from their friends and classmates that Santa doesn't exist and parents actually buy presents. Thomas is unlike other kids in that he's a wunderkind; a genius. Not only can he fix cars and drive, he's also a whiz at all things electronic. Thomas has had a field day coming up with various inventions in the massive castle home where he lives. He's created a trap door, secret passageways, a mini-elevator inside a dumbwaiter and all kinds of little gadgets that he can operate with a remote control arm band. After having the seed of doubt planted in his mind about Santa's existence he's even wired the home with cameras and a surveillance system so he can be the first kid to validate the existence of Jolly Saint Nick with video proof.

Thomas shares his home with his very successful and busy businesswoman mother Julie (Brigitte Fossey) and his diabetic Grandfather Papy (Louis Ducreux), who has become a cherished father figure since his dad passed away. On Christmas Eve, mom has to get a lot of work done at the office and will be gone well into the night, leaving Thomas and Papy home alone. And it turns out to be a very bad time to be all alone. A creepy vagrant (Patrick Floersheim), who got a job playing Santa Claus for Julie's company, gets fired the same day for getting a little too touchy-feely and violent with a young girl. Wanting revenge, he hitches a ride on a delivery truck headed to Julie's. There, he quickly knocks off the cook and the gardener, spray paints his hair and beard white and gets into the main home easily through the chimney. Inside, Thomas is hiding under a table and watching; overjoyed and relieved to see that Santa does indeed exist. His joy is short-lived however, as Santa kills his dog and then comes after him and his beloved Papy.

I'm not at all surprised that this was never released in America. Here we got HOME ALONE (1990), a family-friendly hit which perhaps took some inspiration from this film. Home Alone was able to skate by with a PG rating because it took the broad slapstick approach and made light of all its violence. Despite sharing an almost identical premise, 3615 code Père Noël couldn't be more different. It's quite funny at times, but it's also more serious-minded and much darker in tone. The director usually chooses not to play up the violence in this film for laughs. When the dog is killed and people are attacked, it's disturbing. The kid isn't a one-liner spouting brat, he's a real kid who's scared of the predator inside his home and must build up the courage to fight back. And the intruder isn't a bumbling buffoon who wandered in from some cartoon, he's a psychotic, extremely creepy murderer and child-molester. Both Home Alone and this film have a coming-of-age message and touch on the theme of lost innocence, but the message here is far more potent because it is illustrated throughout; not just thrown out there at the end like some afterthought in its American cousin.

The scenes of Thomas taking on the intruder using various inventions and high-tech contraptions are clever and sometimes amusing. He uses a slingshot to attach a radar device to the killer's back so he can keep tabs on his location, creates a makeshift crossbow (using darts) that's activated by a tripwire and uses firecrackers to make a grenade that he attaches to a toy train and sends in the killer's direction. What prevents this from deteriorating into farce is that while Thomas has to elude and fight back against Santa, he has to make sure his frail Papy, who has blurred vision, stays out of harm's way. The relationship between the boy and his grandfather is utterly charming, and the lengths the boy goes to and courage he must build to protect his beloved grandpa is actually quite touching.

Though this film has action, gimmicks, laughs, visual style, substance and a heart, the reason it's here is that it also manages to be suspenseful, creepy and even quite scary at times. Floersheim is quite possibly the scariest Saint Nick you'll ever see. And the rest of the cast is equally impressive, particularly the young star. There's also fantastic camerawork and some amazing art direction. The only thing that doesn't quite work is the use of slow-motion during some of the action / horror sequences, but that's just a minor gripe about an otherwise very impressive film. Gravel-voiced Bonnie Tyler, who had a few American hits (like "Total Eclipse of the Heart") back in the early 80s, contributes a terrific Christmas theme song to the proceedings, as well.

The 36*15 in the original moniker is a teletext (sort of a primitive early internet system) extension for people to acquire information. The title is usually loosely translated to Dial Code Santa Claus in English, though that's not an official title since this was never released here. There is no DVD release for this underrated and sadly under-viewed film.


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