Acting as the Ghost of VHS Past, “Santa Claws” shows audiences a hilarious look at an inept but well intentioned attempt at Christmas horror!
We continue “50 Years of Holiday Horror”, in partnership with our friends at Horror Hut and Scream Stream — a look at holiday horror from the 1970s through the 2010s. Our pick for 90s era holiday horror is the ridiculous but highly entertaining film SANTA CLAWS (1996).
Santa Claws (1996) is a Christmas-themed horror film starring Debbie Rochon, Grant Kramer, and John Mowod. The film was also written and directed by John Russo, which is shocking when you consider Mr. Russo was the co-writer of Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Why is it shocking? It’s because Santa Claws is no Night of the Living Dead. Not even close.
Instead, it’s a film about Wayne (Grant Kramer), a homicidal man obsessed with his favorite porn-star and, coincidentally, neighbor, Raven Quinn (Debbie Rochon).
Check out this great, two-minute primer of the film from Horror Hut, and then keep reading for more our in-depth coverage of this (sort of) holiday gem.
Santa Claws is a movie that perfectly encapsulates what schlock fans and B-Movie enthusiasts call “The Golden Age of VHS”.
It’s in reference to the rise of direct-to-video selections produced by amateur filmmakers due to the advent of cheap, affordable VHS equipment. This was a time when stores like Blockbuster were flooded with cheaply made movies on VHS, giving new life to both the independent creator and the shlock auteur. Some, if not most, were stinkers, thus fading into obscurity where they rightfully belonged.
Some, however, were more than stinkers. They were ineptly crafted pieces of garbage, with production values so low that it shocks the very mind that they got distributed. They’re the worst made films possible. and they’re glorious.
A film’s reception, rating, or enjoyment is like a ring, or a clock. At the top, you have the best, the funniest, the most well-produced, the most enjoyable. Ever so slowly, as we circle down, they get worse and worse. But, just as they start to bottom out, they start to rise up again and get better. Not better like those other movies. No, they get better… because they get worse and even stranger than could possibly be imagined.
The strangest category of these ‘best of the worst’ films is, in my opinion, Christmas horror movies. There’s something about Christmas and horror that just, usually, doesn’t work. So, what happens when we add another variant into the mix? Christmas comedy horror.
It is this absolutely bonkers niche Santa Claws finds itself in. And I love it.
I found myself grinning at every weird line of dialogue, poorly delivered line, badly framed shot, and just downright strange element in this movie.
To give you just one of a hundred examples, the movie opens abruptly to the house of a young Wayne. No context is given, besides the fact it’s Christmas. Then we see Wayne’s mother and a man, who I only could assume was his father, lying in bed. The mother doesn’t want to get busy because Wayne’s just sleeping on the couch. The man tells her not to worry, however, as he’s drugged the child by putting two sleeping pills in his hot chocolate!
That weird line happens thirty seconds into the movie. What’s even weirder is that it’s a major plot point! It’s not just a line, or something a character did so that he and Wayne’s mom could get busy without Wayne waking up. It’s an action done several times throughout the movie, and I just laugh every time I think think of Night of the Living Dead’s co-creator writing out that line.
Like many of the low budget VHS movies from the era, Santa Claws is filled with nudity.
Writers and directors in this niche sub-culture were always looking to find a way to add naked women into the movie for sex appeals sake.
How did Santa Claws work it in? The entire movie is centered around a horror-themed pin-up girl photo magazine. This makes for plenty of boobage and includes several stripping scenes, featuring original weirdly sexual rock music!
It’s a classic ‘get drunk with your friends and riff’ kind of movie, the ones we all love to hate on.
Goofy deliveries from every character will make you chuckle and smile, Wayne screaming at the severed mannequin torso and head of Raven Quinn will make you stare in wild confusion, and some of the improvised lines will make the room bust up in laughter.
There’s a lot of reasons to love this movie but, sadly, the Christmas aspect isn’t one of them.
Movies like Elves (1989), Jack Frost (1997), Krampus (2015), or Santa’s Slay (2005) are Christmas movies first, through and through. With Santa Claws, it just feels like the Christmas aspect was tacked on.
The only real plot point related to Christmas is that the girls at Raven’s ‘Scream Queens’ studio are doing a Christmas nudie spread. The black Santa outfit, the decorations, all of the Christmas cheer, they seem to be an afterthought. It’s my opinion this movie could’ve been even better and weirder had they leaned into the holiday spirit like Santa Claws’ siblings did.
If you’re looking for a funny, goofy, and poorly made horror movie to make fun of this holiday season, I highly recommend Santa Claws.
So, add a little bit more brandy or bourbon to your eggnog, and sleeping pills to your little one’s hot chocolates, and get ready for one of the weirdest Christmas movies you’ll ever see. You, probably, won’t regret it!