(I doubt anyone would read a review of the commentary before seeing the movie itself, but just in case…. SPOILER ALERT!!)
It’s Christmas morning, time to open presents. You’ve been eyeballing the gifts under the tree for weeks, judging their size, shape, and weight, then cross-referencing that with what you asked for, and adjusting for the personality-type of the people buying for you—will they stick to the list or go for a surprise, and what are the odds that surprise will be a good one? You think you know what you’ve got coming to you, except for that one gift tucked deep beneath the tree. It could be that watch you asked for, but it smells faintly of the worst medicine you took as a kid.
You decide to open it halfway through the other gifts so you can forget about it and get back to the good stuff, a trick you learned growing up as the middle child. You tear the paper and open the box with polite enthusiasm and for a second you see a shiny set of keys to what must surely be a shinier new car, but then you look closer and see a rusted miniature back-scratcher that’s as likely to give you tetanus as any kind of relief.
That basically describes the experience of watching Santa’s Slay. With an opening scene that’s funnier than the average Saturday Night Live skit, the movie got off to a surprisingly good start. Granted, my expectations were pretty low—when he popped up in the opening scene, I thought, Wow! Chris Kattan is in this movie! Along with Fran Drescher and James Caan—yes, James Caan—he helps get the movie off to a solid start. Dave Thomas and Saul Rubinek also pop up along the way, but even still, this movie is a gift you’ll want to return.
The core members of the cast are better than you might expect. If you like Goldberg’s work in the WWE and have ever wondered what he’d look like in a convincingly badass Santa suit, this is your chance. Grandpa is played by Robert Culp, a veteran actor who does his best with what he’s got here; he could have taken his character from the Alberta-shot Santa’s Slay straight over to the Saskatchewan-based series Corner Gas and he’d fit right in. Unfortunately, Douglas Smith’s performance as protagonist Nicholas Yuleson is as wooden as a nutcracker prince that never really comes to life, but at least he often shares the screen with Emilie de Ravin (Claire Littleton on TV’s Lost), whose character Mac is lively, if not exactly interesting.
The backstory is amusingly conveyed through a stop-motion throwback to Rankin and Bass Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Basically, Santa is a demon who bets against an angel on a curling match. Santa loses, and so must be good for a thousand years. But time’s up, and now that he’s paid his dues, he’s being naughty with a vengeance. Nicholas gets caught in the middle thanks to a secret from his grandfather’s past.
On the commentary track he shares with producer Matthew Leonetti, Jr., writer-director David Steiman explains that his failsafe jokes include old people swearing and fart jokes. In that case, Steiman may have achieved exactly what he was going for, and viewers who share his humour might really enjoy his directing debut. But for me, it was a little like eating fruitcake: you could work around the parts you don’t like, but there’d be almost nothing left.
Santa’s Slay could have been a genuinely entertaining half-hour special, but much like a gag gift, the novelty quickly wears off, and by the time the movie ends, it’s long gone. On the brighter side, it’s only a 78-minute movie, despite the 95-minute running time stated on the DVD case. When the credits rolled early, it was my very own Christmas miracle.
The night before shooting the opening scene, Bill Goldberg had to have emergency hand surgery, so Steiman had to find a stunt double to use at the last minute.
Fran Drescher’s burning hair was achieved by lighting a mannequin’s head on fire, then having the visual effects guy transplant the image to Drescher.
The film was shot in Edmonton. Donna Zuk, who plays Mrs. Talbot, had never had a speaking role in a film before; a very involved member of her church, Zuck didn’t smoke, drink, or swear, but learned to do all three for the movie.
Steiman thinks you can’t go wrong with old people swearing and fart jokes. He manages to get a few of each into this film.
Steiman had Mrs. Talbot drive an “old, big American car” because he loves them, and because he had hoped to use it after shooting for a demolition derby.
The initials on Nicolas’s hoodie stand for the South-West North Dakota State University. A cut scene featured him watching the HornyAsianHousewives.com Christmas Eve Bowl.
The Gold Diggers Strip Club is based on a strip club that Steiman’s grandfather owned, where Steiman “spent a fair amount of time as a youth.”
The location for the strip club was the biggest western bar in Edmonton.
Goldberg met his future wife while filming the strip club scene (00:24:24); she was a stunt woman on the trapeze, and Goldberg spent the better part of the day with his face buried between her legs.
Steiman is driving the demolition derby car that they see on TV (00:26:11). It was an actual competition. He placed fifth and won $50.
The stop-motion sequence was inspired by the old Rankin and Bass Christmas specials, which were favourites of Steiman.
Steiman hand-wrote the script between takes while working as an assistant on Rush Hour 2.
Steiman made it a point to include Goldberg’s wrestling theme music (00:45:00).
Santa’s “helldeer” was actually played by two buffalo. One of them became so afraid of Goldberg’s voice that it eventually bolted at the sound of him.