Director: Massimiliano Cerchi
Released on a double-bill disc with the nominally similar Psycho Santa, this turns out not be the expected cut-price, shot-on-video indie but an hour-long, professionally made flick filmed in what looks like 16mm (a lot of on-line reviews say this is shot on video but it very obviously isn’t). What is more, director/producer/executive producer Massimiliano Cerchi turns out to be the real name of Al Passeri, Italian helmer of the sublimely dreadful Creatures from the Abyss.
In fact, Satan Claus gives us pretty much from the off what Psycho Santa promised but never really delivered, which is a guy dressed as Father Christmas repeatedly hacking up innocent people while laughing in a jolly manner.
Our hero is aspiring actor Steve Sanders (Robert Hector: The Vampire Project) who is collecting for a local orphanage, dressed as Santa, when he meets his photographer friend Sandra Logan (Jodie Rafty) and her boyfriend Jeff, who is murdered in front of them by the jolly fat guy with the beard. Steve and Sandra report the murder to the cops, specifically a senior cop named George Ardison (Barie Snider).
All we ever see of the Police Station is Ardison’s office, which he shares with a plain clothes police woman named Sharon; there’s a uniformed cop (John Romanelli) who pops in and out, but there is nothing else to indicate that we’re actually in the station. Like most of the interior sets, Ardison’s office is kept very dark to hide the lack of a set dressing budget, so all we see are the two desks and a couple of wall flats with things pinned to them (including, for some reason, a photo of Bill Clinton).
Jeff was actually the killer’s second victim, the first being Ardison’s wife. Over the full sixty minutes a whole bunch more people get hacked up by the killer, who telephones Ardison after each murder asking if he likes the latest ‘present’. Steve has an African American friend named Maman (writer/performer Lauretta Ali, who recounts how she got involved with the film here), formerly a witch doctor in New Orleans, and she senses that something evil and unholy is at work, rather than just a psycho. Halfway through, we are suddenly introduced to Steve’s other friend, policewoman Lisa Red, who takes over Sharon’s desk for no apparent reason.
Steve goes to visit Sandra and discovers in her studio a cabalistic circle of candles and a blood-spattered 8x10 of Ardison, plus a Christmas tree decorated with body parts removed from the victims. At the end, Ardison turns up dressed as Santa but so does Sandra and it turns out (I think) that she raised a demon to take revenge on Ardison’s wife because she was having an affair with Jeff. Or something.
Though the plot makes precious little sense, the script has moments of surprisingly decent characterisation while the acting varies from really quite good (Hector, Ali) to thoroughly wooden (Snider). The biggest problem is that almost everything takes place at night, and even the few daytime scenes are dark and underlit, because of the aforementioned budget constraints. However, this does have the advantage of helping to render the rubber body parts less unrealistic.
Satan Claus himself is played by Robert Cummings (widely miscredited on-line as ‘Robert Cummins’). He is hidden behind a beard, but I’m guessing that this is Robert Cummings the stuntman who played ‘Klingon gunner no.1’ in The Search for Spock and was also in They Live, Predator 2, Pumpkinhead, etc. It is certainly not the better known Robert Cummings, the 1930s/1940s comedian who later had roles in Dial M for Murder and Beach Party, on account of him having died in 1990.
Several of the cast and crew were also in Cerchi/Passeri’s next film, Hellinger, including DoP John Gilgar and Nicholas Van Eeden who plays Jeff. Passeri’s other movies, which I have yet to enjoy, include The Mummy Theme Park and Carnage: The Legend of Quiltface. In an earlier life he was allegedly assistant production designer on Alien 2: Sulla Terra and a special effects technician on The New Gladiators. Producer Ken Greenblatt makes a brief appearance as one of a trio of vigilantes attacking anyone they find dressed as Santa. (There is an agent in LA named Ken Greenblatt, but as Satan Claus was filmed in New York I suspect this is actually the off-broadway producer behind Menopause: The Musical.)
The IMDB dates this film to 1996 while other sites say 1999 with the Bill Clinton photo being the only visual clue. There is no copyright date on the print and, given that the six-year-old Creatures from the Abyss was being touted as a new film when I saw it at Cannes in 2000, it is clear that Passeri likes to keep his production dates - shall we say? - fluid. The really odd thing here is the running time - almost exactly sixty minutes. Since there is no market for an hour-long film (except as the bottom half of a Sub Rosa double bill DVD, obviously), one can’t help wondering whether it was supposed to be this long or whether this was all the usable footage that could be salvaged from the production.
MJS rating: C