Synopsis: An original and delightfully gruesome slasher film, Saint re-imagines the jolly old saint as a bloodthirsty bishop fulfilling a grisly prophecy every 32 years under the Christmas full moon. Slain by the villagers he tormented, the medieval marauder swears a ghostly revenge on their descendants. Centuries later, the story has settled comfortably into innocuous folklore, until a bloody encounter with the ghoul forces local teen Frank to believe in Santa all over again. Teaming up with discharged cop and fellow believer Goert, Frank must save the city of Amsterdam in an all-out bloody battle against the wrathful “Sinterklaas” and his minions.
eyelights: the devilishly delicious core concept.
eyesores: the flimsy writing. the rubbery make-up. the cheap cgi.
‘Sint’ is a Dutch horror film based on the character of Saint Nicholas. It was written, directed, co-produced and scored by Dick Maas of ‘Flodder’ fame. It revolves around evil Bishop Niklas, who used to pillage and kill his way through small towns with the help of his henchmen, the Black Francis.
Over the years, the legend changed and his reputation became that of a benefactor who gives gifts to nice children – and takes bad children to Spain. But the reality is that Niklas is evil embodied, and every 32 years since the night of December 5, 1492, where an uprising led to his death, he has returned for vengeance.
‘Sint’ was controversial in the Netherlands because of its interpretation of Santa Claus, which some people felt would have an impact on children. While they weren’t allowed to see the movie in cinemas, the poster was seen everywhere in public spaces, and it showed an evil Sinterklaas riding his steed in the shadows.
This may seem out of character for Maas but, despite his reputation for goofy comedy, he had made waves at the beginning of his career with ‘De Lift’ and ‘Amsterdamned’, two popular thrillers. He’d wanted to make a Santa Claus horror film for about 10 years but, for some reason, stalled during the 2000s, delivering few films.
One could speculate that he was saddled with the ‘Flodder’ franchise, unable to shake the reputation it gave him. He made two attempts at success in North America with English-language films, but failed. Finally, he got around to making ‘Sint’ (in which he referred to ‘Flodder’ by showing the Xmas episode of the TV show in the background, on a television. Nice.)
I love the basic concept, and really enjoyed the opening segment with had a deeply malevolent Bishop Niklas wandering into town on his white steed whilst the Black Peters went down chimneys to assail those who had locked their front doors. I loved the mixture of nod to, and twist on, the Santa Claus mythology.
What I didn’t understand was why, after his violent death, Sinterklaas would return every 32 years, when there was a full moon. I don’t understand how that factored in. I also didn’t get the cultural reference in making him come back on December 5th, but apparently that’s when children get their presents in Holland.
Further to this, in the movie it is claimed that legend has it that bad children are taken to Spain. ‘Sint’ doesn’t explain this either, but the Dutch version of Sinterklaas is from Madrid, Spain. (as a side-note, this Sinterklaas doesn’t care who he and the Black Peters kill – good or bad. And they don’t take any prisoners – not to Spain or anywhere else!)
You’d think that this would have the making of a pretty decent scary movie, along the lines of ‘Rare Exports‘ mixed with ‘Halloween‘, with its own twisted take on Santa Claus, but beyond its tasty premise, ‘Sint’ is far too conventional to be interesting. In fact, it feels rare trite, like so many American horror films aimed at teens.
It even begins the present-time segment of the picture with a few echoes of ‘Halloween’, what with the three girls walking home after school, the long shots of the Amsterdam suburban areas and the simple keyboard score. In fact it’s so reminiscent that, as I watched that sequence, I wondered if it was a nod or a direct lift.
From that point onward, however, the story is rather mundane, with the only thing peppering it being the backstory of a cop who is obsessed with Sinterklaas’ Dec 5th rampage ever since he saw his parents killed by him 32 years prior. Considered suspect by his colleagues, he is given the night off so that he isn’t on edge whilst on duty.
It was an interesting angle, although nothing novel. The chief issue is that they revealed too much about the character too early: right after the sequence in 1492, we got to see Sinterklaas’ 1968 attack and thus knew the cop’s story. I wish that they had not been so linear and left a few reveals for later in the picture, because it left us with no surprises.
Of course, the writing is extremely typical of the genre: grit mixed with juvenile humour. And the scares are traditionally cheap, with most of the horror being based on gore – not that there’s tons of it, but Maas spent more time severing body parts than creating real tension. In his defense, it’s hard to balancing horror with humour, but it’s been done (ex: ‘Scream’).
Surprisingly, there’s actually no gratuitous nudity – something one might expect from the genre. And, frankly, given the mediocrity of the picture, I probably wouldn’t have minded some eye-candy to keep my mind off of things. Alas, no such luck – not for anyone: men, women, straight or gay.
The acting isn’t particularly compelling either, being totally par-for-the-course for the genre: okay, but not great. What was interesting, however, is that Huub Stapel, who played Johnnie in the first two ‘Flodder’ films, played Sinterklaas – a pretty amusing twist given the good-natured character he’s known for.
The film also doesn’t excel from a special effects standpoint. Although Maas likes to boast that they now had the technology to make movies like the Americans do, he failed to realize that he is referring to a substandard level of American film – the horror genre, which is notoriously done on the cheap.
There were plenty of moments when the green-screening effects were self-evident; you could tell the difference between real and CGI with ease. It’s a shame: I really loved that Sinterklaas rode around on a white steed everywhere, even across rooftops – unfortunately, the cgi was not good enough to make the effect entirely credible.
Heck, even more traditional effects were of dubious quality: for instance, the make-up for Sinterklaas was pretty rubbery; it didn’t look like skin to me. In fact, it was very inflexible, worse than even early ’80s make-up (case-in-point: Freddy Krueger looked better). Too bad, too, ’cause Sinterklaas’ basic design is killer.
All this to say that I was somewhat disappointed with ‘Sint’. My expectations weren’t very high, given the genre, but I had hoped to find another unexpected Christmas gem, such as ‘Bad Santa‘. Not quite. ‘Sint’ is a good concept done without enough sophistication to make it work. A darker, more serious version likely would have.
After all, if you’re going to turn Santa Claus into a villain, you might as well make it realistic enough so that people will buy into the conceit. You want the naughty and the nice to be filled with this twisted Christmas spirit. You want people to look over their shoulders whenever someone says that ‘Sinterklaas’ is coming to town.
Date of viewing: November 24, 2013