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 cartoonishly violent 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.


Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

... aka: Bloodnight: The House of Death
... aka: Death House
... aka: Night of the Dark Full Moon
... aka: Zora

Directed by:
Theodore Gershuny

In 1950, on Christmas day, Wilfred Butler (Philip Bruns) died a fiery "accidental" death at his Arlington, Massachusetts home. No one attended the funeral, but Wilfred left behind his home and all its belongings to his oldest living relation; his grandson Jeffrey. He stipulates in the will that the house is to remain just as he has left it "to remind the world of its inhumanity and cruelty." For twenty years the house laid empty and completely unchanged. Now it's finally up for sale. In charge of selling the place at Jeffrey's behest is big city lawyer John Carter (Patrick O'Neal), who's married but decides to bring along his young mistress Ingrid (Astrid Heeren) on the trip. John goes to Town Hall to meet with Mayor Adams (Walter Abel), deaf newspaper publisher Charlie Towman (John Carradine), communications director / switchboard operator Tess Howard (Fran Stevens) and Sheriff Bill Mason (Walter Klavun). The city seems keen on purchasing the property. In fact, they've spent years begging Jeffrey to sell it. Now they finally get their chance, if they can come up with the 50,000 asking price; just one-fifth of what it's really worth.

Though the Mayor and the other old-timers in town behave suspciously and try to convince them to get a hotel, John and Ingrid decide to spend the night in the Butler House instead while they wait on an answer. Little do they know, but someone has just escaped from the Margaretville State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, stolen a car, knifed a dog and is hiding out on the top floor of the large home. Later that night, whoever it is sneaks into the bedroom while the lawyer and his lover are having sex and chops them both up with an axe. The killer then calls the Sheriff, lures him there and murders him with a shovel, then gets Tess to come over and she disappears inside the home also. The killer makes taunting phone calls in a whispered voice trying to lure people his or her way, claims their name is Mary Ann and make other references to Christmas Eve in 1935. It seems whoever's doing the killings doesn't want the house to be sold and is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn't happen.

Chief among the suspects is Jeffrey Butler (James Patterson) himself. He mysteriously materializes in town from California and starts lurking around. He beats in the windshield of a car with a tire iron, steals the dead lawyer's car and ends up going to Adams' home, where he meets the Mayor's daughter Diane (Mary Woronov). While at Towman's office, Diane scours through old newspapers and discovers that Wilfred Butler's wife died of tuberculosis and his 15-year-old daughter Mary Ann had been raped, got pregnant and then gave birth to a baby boy; Jeffrey. The Butler home was then turned into a mental home and Mary Ann was committed there as one of the patients. Some portions of the papers have been cut out, so Diane is unable to get the full story, but it's eventually revealed when someone gets their hands on Wilfred's journal. There are some superbly creepy, sepia-toned flashbacks which recount the sordid and blood-soaked history of the home to bring things full circle.

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) is often seen as an inspiration behind HALLOWEEN (1978), but this film - with its killer lurking around in a large old house, mysterious phone calls from someone masking their voice and giving out crypic clues, creepy POV camerawork and the holiday setting (complete with instrumental Christmas songs on the soundtrack) can just as much be seen as an inspiration behind Black Christmas. Despite some jagged editing cuts and a few poorly done, awkward moments, there are lots of eerie fish-eye camera shots on trees and house, a fair mystery and decent performances from the entire cast.

A public domain title now, the most circulated print is a grainy, heavily-damaged one. However, in this particular case the scratchy look actually enhances the eerie ambience of the whole thing. Some parts seem to have been removed from this version (there are a few jumps in audio and within violent scenes), but I can't be 100 percent sure about that. Lloyd Kaufman was the associate producer and also worked on the same director's SUGAR COOKIES (1972), which also starred Woronov.

A remake / "re-imagining;" SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT: THE HOMECOMING (2012) should be out sometime next year.

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