Review – ‘Cause Santa’s Gonna Slay Tonight (“Violent Night”)

Before you even ask, NO, this isn’t another one of those endless slasher movies about a psychotic guy dressed as Santa Claus. Rather, this is more about jolly ol’ St. Nick whipping out a sledgehammer and saving the day against some bad guys!

It’s Christmas Eve and we find Santa Claus (David Harbour) drunk in a bar, hating Christmas, greedy kids, and his life. Okay, it’s gonna be that kind of movie, huh? Meanwhile, let’s check out the mega-rich Lightstone family and their Christmas gathering at impressive Lightstone manor. Jason (Alex Hassell) Lightstone, his estranged wife, Linda (Alexis Louder) are there with their 9-year-old daughter, Gertrude “Trudy” (Leah Brady) while waiting for the matriarch of the family, the super wealthy and crude Gertrude Lightstone (Beverly D’Angelo). Also joining them are Jason’s alcoholic sister, Alva (Edi Patterson), her idiotic action-star husband/boy-toy, Morgan Steele (Cam Gigandet), and Alva’s dim-bulb YouTube influencer son, Bert (Alexander Elliot).

But while Santa is having a nap downstairs (thanks to some booze), terrorists arrive! Oh-no! Calling himself Mr. Scrooge (John Leguizamo), he and his posse of gun-toting thugs (all going by code names like Tinsel, Gingerbread, Frosty, etc) kill everyone there, and then pull a Die Hard; they want the $300million in the basement vault. . . or else! But just as Santa is about to flee for his life, he gets a message. It’s an impassioned call for help from Trudy on her early Christmas gift, a walkie-talkie. Santa, who can’t turn the down the cries of a child, decides to fight, and fight he does!

This Santa, depending on the situation and when the script needs him to be, is either a bumbling guy trying to save the day from the bad guys or an unstoppable, rage-filled, killing machine who makes Jason Voorhees look like an amateur. Oh, and it gets real bloody, too! Make no mistake about it, this movie doesn’t shy away from showing some gruesome and, at times, pretty funny offings that come at the hands of Kris Kringle. Even Trudy gets into the act when she “Home Alone’s” the attic, with hilarious results. Screenwriters Pat Casey & Josh Miller (both Sonic the Hedgehog movies) have a fun time here and, just like their other movies, have massive gaps in logic & inconsistencies, plot holes, and those pesky deus ex machines. But, c’mon, what did you expect? Shakespeare? It’s a crazy, action-packed bloodbath with some decent jokes and performances.

The real pleasure is watching Tommy Wikola’s (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) spot-on direction. His camera work isn’t muddied with slam-edits, shaky hand-held camera, and other ‘stylized’ stuff. He lets you see all the great fight choreography, and all the disgusting and occasionally humorous deaths. Points for that! The third act does drag on for longer than it should and I was hoping for Krampus or Mrs. Claus to show up for some action but you can’t have everything. And give it up for David Harbour for totally committing to this role and making it so believable. Seriously, he could make this a series or franchise! Leguizamo is also outstanding as the ‘Hans Gruber’ baddie who just oozes villainy. He is excellent!

Young Leah Brady is a stand-out and isn’t one of those “Hollywood kids”; she plays it real and sincere. D’Angelo is wonderful and Gigandet is a riot as a Chris Evans wanna-be! Also, check out the two henchmen, Mitra Suri (as Candy Cane) and Andre Eriksen (as Gingerbread) as they give some terrific, underrated performances. Yes, it certainly lives up to its title but at least it’s not one of those low-budget Holiday movies you find on the VOD circuit that is a “killer of the week” special! 

**Now playing in theaters only

Fatman (2020)

What? Don’t remember this movie? Not surprised. It came out smack-dab in the middle of the pandemic and went straight to VOD. It’s as if someone saw the fake trailer, The Day The Reindeer Died in the movie Scrooged and thought, “Y’know, that’s not a bad idea for a real movie!” and then went ahead and made it!

Imagine a world where Santa Claus, aka Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) is real, lives in North Peak, Alaska with his British wife, Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and is old, exhausted, and finding each year damn expensive to keep up. Although subsidized by the U.S. Government, he’s facing financial difficulties, so he must make some hard decisions living at his lonely, isolated ranch. But first, let’s meet a kid on his naughty list named Billy Wenan (Chance Hurstfield), a vicious, spoiled, ego-maniacal, wealthy brat. Guess what Santa’s giving him for Christmas? Yup! Coal!!

Enraged by his lumpy gift of carbon, young Billy hires a stone-cold hitman (Walter Goggins) to kill ‘the fatman’. This ruthless hitman (known as the Skinny Killer) has a collection of Santa-made toys, which makes this assassination of particular interest to him. As the Skinny Killer tracks down his elusive prey, Chris makes a heartbreaking decision: have his crack team of toy-making elves make computer parts for the U.S. Army for some extra cash. U.S. military Captain Jacobs (Robert Bockstael) is impressed at the speed and accuracy of the elves, under the tutelage of elf foreman #7 (Eric Woolfe). Oh, all elves have numbers, not names, BTW.

Skinny Killer, meanwhile, is leaving a bloody trail of death behind him while cleverly tracking down where Chris Cringle/Santa Claus lives. By the time he arrives in North Peak and finds the ranch, there’s only 24 minutes left in the movie, but that’s enough time for bullets, blood, and bodies to rack up, not to mention the penultimate showdown between Skinny Killer (we find out his true name) and Chris. And as a bonus treat, we get a nice finale with bratty little Billy.

This darkly humored Christmas tale was written & directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms and, no, you’ve never heard of them. They’ve only put out two other forgettable movies (Small Town Crime & Waffle Street), but their flair for both screenwriting and direction is outstanding. Usually, if you have a ‘Santa with guns’ movie, it’s destined to be a substandard B-movie with lousy acting, terrible production values, and a script that sucks. Not here. I found myself thoroughly enjoying this wacky and subtly nuanced movie about a grizzled, real-life Santa facing today’s hardships. Refreshing!

Plus, Mel Gibson as Santa Claus is not what you expect. He’s not your jovial Tim Allen/Kurt Russell/Ed Asner playing the red-suited big guy, in fact, there’s no red suit at all! Gibson is a stand-out and not who’d you’d expect as St. Nick! This is a 2020 Santa facing economic woes like you and I, and one that would NOT make you jolly or happy. And with a silly premise like Santa being hunted by a hitman, you’d think the script would reflect that, but it doesn’t. The dialogue and story is snappy, plays it real, and that’s where this movie draws its strength from.

Chance Hurstfield is SO good as a villainous little bad seed Billy, you really want to see Krampus show up at the end and take care of this rotten kid! An unexpected treat is British Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Mrs. Claus who is both Chris’ love and better half, and Googins steals the movie with his 1000-yard stare that would worry Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. And for a small part, Eric Woolfe’s Elf #7 is unnervingly odd and wonderful. Stream/rent this! It’s great! 

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