DEADLY GAMES (1989)
aka DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS, GAME OVER
Directed by René Manzor
Written by René Manzor
Starring Brigitte Fossey, Louis Ducreux, Alain Lalanne, François-Eric Gendron, Stéphane Legros, Franck Capillery, Nicole Raucher, Gédéon, Charles de Feral, Marion Bureau, Mousse, Edmond Thanel, René Manzor, Canaillou, & Patrick Floersheim as Santy Claus!
Ah the late eighties, when kids were allowed to play with toy guns, fireworks, and all kinds of deadly weaponry that have since become banned, cancelled, or politically corrected out of existence. Back then, I had a full ninja arsenal including a real sword, shurikens, hand and foot claws, and a bow and arrow…and this is all before I was a teen! So let’s just say that I identified with the mulletted youngster who Rambo’s up and takes on a Santa Claus who delivers a home invasion for Christmas. Released a year before HOME ALONE, DEADLY GAMES aka GAME OVER aka DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS is one horror filled Yuletide Tale worth watching.
When an on-the-edge man is fired from his job as a department store Santa Claus (Patrick Floersheim), he seeks out the store owner’s address and begins stalking her son Thomas (Alain Lalanne). But Thomas is no normal kid. He’s rigged the entire house as his own private battlefield and woe to the intruder who dares enter his home unprepared for the dogs of war. While his mother is busy at work with rabid customers with last minute shopping needs, Thomas is home protecting his ailing Grandpa and pet dog with an entire arsenal of toy weaponry that would give any safety inspector nightmares.
The first thing that stood out to me with DEADLY GAMES is the complexity Patrick Floersheim and filmmaker René Manzor bring to the threat playing Santa Claus. He is first seen attempting to join in on a snowball fight with a bunch of children in the street. Once he jumps into the fray, the kids scatter, leaving him alone in the street. It immediately gives us a glimpse at what this man really is. He’s a big kid—a simple and most likely disturbed man who is just looking for a place to fit in and someone to play with. This wish gets twisted later on as he once again is denied his wish to play with children when his terrible social skills and child-like way of dealing with people gets him fired from his job as a Santa Claus. Like a child, he lashes out at something that really has nothing to do with why he was fired—the owner of the company which leads him to her house and in confrontation with her son Thomas. But even when he enters the house, his plan again seems to be just to play with Thomas—though Thomas sees this intruder as someone dangerous. This is a much more nuanced way of portraying the antagonist—something that makes this evil Santa much scarier than the axe wielding, black and white thinker from SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT. A man who doesn’t know his own strength and doesn’t know the ramifications of his own unhinged actions is much more terrifying to me.
I also loved the way filmmaker Manzor plays with Thomas’ belief in Santa Claus. Thomas is right at the cusp of not believing in Santa Claus. He’s hearing it at school and seems confused as to whether his beliefs are childish or accurate. There is a fantastic exchange between Thomas and his mother at the beginning that illustrates the conflict between a parent’s need to keep their child young as long as they can versus and a child’s natural inquisitiveness and desire to grow up faster. Unlike the invader Santa Claus, Thomas understands the difference between reality and play. Again, filmmaker Manzor boils his characters down to the basics to put them at odds not only physically, but intellectually and in terms of maturity as well.
Manzor keeps the pace fast and furious and an early death gives this film stakes much higher than some might find comfortable. Those with problems with child and animal death might want to skip this one. The action and danger is definitely real and with high stakes. This is definitely a child in peril, but Thomas (Alain Lalanne) is one scampy scamp who gives just as rough as he gets. Floersheim plays one of the scariest Santa Clauses I’ve ever seen. Seeing the two of these clash is something truly spectacular and anyone who grew up in the eighties will appreciate all of the toys and reckless mayhem that unfolds in DEADLY GAMES, right down to the rough and tumble ending. While it is similar in story to HOME ALONE, the tone is much more dark and deadly. Those who like some spice with their sweet Christmas cheer are going to be thrilled to find this one in their stalking…I mean, stocking!
Though it’s been available on bootleg and other seedy avenues for years, DEADLY GAMES is available for the first time on SHUDDER!