Review: Dial Code Santa Claus (1989)

Review: Dial Code Santa Claus (1989)

The last of my holiday viewing is probably one of my favorites so far. The easiest way to describe DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS (aka DEADLY GAMES aska 3615 Code Pére Noël) is HOME ALONE where instead of robbers the kid fights a psychotic Santa Claus, but that would be selling the movie short by a wide margin. For starters Thomas, the child in this movie, bears little resemblance to Kevin McAllister and is instead a child prodigy (sporting one of the great movie mullets in history) who loves technology and fixing things and watching action movies and recreating said scenes from the movies in the castle that he lives in with his mother and grandfather. As nice as the McAllister house is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the secret doors and hidden lairs contained inside the castle, making it the perfect spot for a cat and mouse-style horror/thriller.

Thomas believes in Santa Claus very much and would like to see him, even going so far as to try and contact him via the computer. However the person on the other end isn’t Santa, but a strange and creepy man who is up to no good. This leads the stranger to a bit of an obsession with Thomas, tracking down his mother and getting a job at her department store as a Santa and promptly being fired for slapping a child who rightly thinks he is a creep. Before he turns in his suit, he overhears delivery plans for presents for Thomas at the castle and stows away in the delivery van, murdering the driver after reaching his location. Meanwhile, Thomas is waiting diligently by the chimney, his security system (controlled by a Predator-esque wristguard) set up to record Santa should he appears. However when the vagrant comes down the chimney and murders the family dog, Thomas must fight to save himself and his grandfather from the enraged Father Christmas by using the arsenal of traps and technology he has at his disposal.

It’s easy to see the basic comparisons between the two movies, but DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS ends up being a much more fulfilling experience for me. For one, the traps he makes really are intended to stop the vagrant, who seems to keep getting up again no matter how much abuse he takes but becoming more monstrous looking in the process. Where we don’t think Kevin is actually in any danger from the Wet Bandits, it is clear from the start that Santa is very much a threat and there is no good ending that will come from him winning the game of hide and seek. The stakes are higher for Thomas as well, since he can’t just leave the house as his ailing, diabetic grandfather is with him and is equally in danger from the maniac.

While there is humor, the movie packs in all the tension of a thriller and part of that is due to the relationships built between the characters in the beginning. Thomas and his grandfather love each other and they try to support each other during the invasion. His mother is trying to get home to him to be with her family on Xmas Eve when she discovers something is amiss, though the treacherous roads covered in snow and ice make her journey anything but an easy one. As a protagonist, Thomas isn’t exactly endearing at first, coming across as strange and snotty to his family and his friend. However, when in peril, it is easy to see that his bravado is just a veneer and he is actually just a terrified child trying to survive a desperate situation. Writer/director René Manzor does a fine job building all the connections and setting up the pieces on the board so that when they all do come together, the action comes fast and furious until the chilling end of it.

Vinegar Syndrome has an amazing BluRay out of the film that is well worth picking up as this is the type of movie that rewards repeated viewings with friends or just as part of your holiday horror playlist. You can also catch it on Shudder both as a standalone film and as part of Joe Bob Saves Christmas, where he can give you more insight than I into the film. Either way, it is a fantastic film and perfect for the Christmas season. It’s the sort of film I wish had a better release in the States as I would have enjoyed the hell out of it as a child. I’m just glad the American Genre Film Archive decided to give it a restoration and introduce it to a new generation of fans young and old.

Check it out.