I first heard about St. Nick (2010)– a horror movie from the Netherlands- from my sister in law, who is Dutch. It was a few years ago around the holiday season. It seems that the film was causing all sorts of problems in the Netherlands with kids who were horrified by the prospect that St. Nicholas could be evil. I knew it would be a few years before I could see it because foreign distribution in the US can be spotty at times. But my inner-horror lover filed it away. I knew I’d get my chance. And my chance finally came.
Horror movies about Santa Claus- or in this case, St. Nicholas- are a mixed bag, much like the jolly old elf’s own bag of toys. Reach in and you never know what you’ll get. Some are great (Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale), some are decent (Black Christmas, 1974), and some are downright horrible (Christmas Evil). This particular entry into the canon is solidly above average compared to its peers, but falls short of greatness.
The background is that St. Nicholas was a murderous bishop in the 16th century. On a full moon on December 5th, villagers meted out justice on the evil bishop by murdering him. Every 32 years, whenever there’s a full moon on St. Nicholas Eve, the now-zombified St. Nicholas descends upon Amsterdam with an army of Black Petes in tow. He exacts his revenge by slaughtering adults and whisking naughty children away to “Spain”.
There are a handful of things that St. Nick has working in its favor. There’s just enough gore to appease the gorehounds, with the film functioning as a neat twist on the slasher genre. In fact, it derives greatly from two John Carpenter films- The Fog (1980) and Halloween (1978). St. Nicholas is mostly portrayed as a Christmas version of Michael Myers. And much like The Fog, many of his dastardly deeds are shrouded in the fog of Amsterdam’s harbors and inlets. He’s accompanied by a crew of “Black Peters”, much like Blake and his crew in The Fog. I also couldn’t help but chuckle and notice- whether on purpose or not- that the plot hatched to defeat the evil St. Nicholas is the exact same as the one used by Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen (1951).
The one realm where the film truly succeeds is in the action sequences. I’ve noticed more and more in recent years that Northern Europe seems to admire American action sequences, and it shows up in their films. It’s on full display in St. Nick, most notably as St. Nicholas is chased on his evil steed across the rooftops of Amsterdam. It was the defining moment of the film.
There’s also a healthy dose of comedy. It wasn’t exactly laugh-out-loud stuff, but there were some mild laughs, enough to keep the film light early on. I wouldn’t recommend going into it expecting a fully developed horror-comedy mix but you might expect a handful of chuckles.
Where it ultimately falters is in the story itself, which is sloppy. Numerous subplots are crammed in for no apparent reason. Set-ups appear early on, and are then left mostly undeveloped. It also could have used a little more of evil St. Nicholas. Many of his nefarious activities are actually carried out by the army of Black Petes. And while it’s absolutely no fault of the film, I’d strongly recommend boning up a little on Dutch traditions around St. Nicholas Eve. I’m lucky that my sister-in-law is from the Netherlands, and therefore I had a little background about placing a wooden shoe in front of the fireplace, singing songs about Sinterklaas, writing poems to gift recipients, and Black Peter.
I think it’s worth noting that the film was written by, directed, and scored by one person- Dick Maas. That’s quite a feather in his cap, regardless of the quality of the film. That he poured that much of himself into the movie speaks volumes. Of course, I also think the play on words in his name is funny. His name is Dick Maas, and he made a movie that features a dick who ruins Christmas. Dickmaas. Dickmas.
The natural inclination here will be to compare it to Rare Exports, another Northern European Santa-themed horror from 2010. I don’t think that’s particularly fair, since they’re very different films. Both work for me, although I will admit to having a strong preference for Rare Exports. All the same, if you’re looking for some ho-ho-horror, St. Nick is a fine selection.