Nothing beats a diabolical Santa Slasher during the holidays, and “Santa Isn’t Real” puts blood in the eggnog and viscera in your stocking.
For lovers of the Christmas horror subgenre, the past few years have been a real boon, with well over 30 Yuletide terror films being released from seemingly every corner of the world.
Whether it’s this year’s seasonal slasher It’s A Wonderful Knife, last year’s low-rent options like Jack Frost or The Killing Tree, or the slightly bigger-budgeted ventures such as Christmas, Bloody Christmas, or the trauma-soaked Christmas psychological thriller The Apology, there’s much to celebrate when it comes to the beloved subgenre’s latest entries.
Perhaps among the most enduring (and entertaining) subsets of the Christmas horror subgenre is the Psycho Santa film.
The formula is fairly basic, but it usually involves a killer dressed as Santa Claus taunting and killing victims around the holiday season, forever galvanized by the likes of Robert Brian Wilson as “Billy Chapman” in Silent Night, Deadly Night and Eric Freeman’s legendary performance in Silent Night, Deadly Night 2.
Additional variations include depictions of the real Santa Claus as a maniacal harbinger of death, such as the now-cult classic Santa’s Slay.
Enter Santa Isn’t Real, a rather standard stalk-and-slash Psycho Santa film written and directed Zac Locke, one of the producers behind the latest Black Christmas reboot in 2019.
The film opens with an ominous appearance of Santa Claus brutally attacking and nearly killing Nikki (Kaya Coleman) on Christmas Eve.
A year after the ordeal and following Nikki’s reawakening from a coma, she accompanies her tight-knit group of friends for an intimate gathering at a cabin in the woods to celebrate Christmas.
She opens up about her near-fatal violent encounter with a mysterious intruder she swore was the real Santa Claus, but her friends are perplexed because investigators ruled her attack a delusional suicide attempt.
Naturally, a Santa-masked killer invades the secluded cabin; secrets are revealed, and past traumas are explored and exploited.
Is Nikki delusional, or is Ol’ Saint Nick to blame for the night or torment and carnage?
The biggest weaknesses hampering Santa Isn’t Real from achieving its full potential are inconsistent performances from the relatively small cast and odd tonal shifts brought on by jarring contrasts in the film’s music score. The off-the-shelf Santa mask and accompanying modulated voice also lack creative depth, but it doesn’t necessarily destroy the concept entirely.
Given it is the season of forgiveness after all, most of these faux pas can be overlooked in light of the the beautiful set designs that drip with nostalgia and Christmas iconography.
There is never a doubt that this Christmas slasher is indeed set at Christmas. It might sound pedestrian, but it’s often an effort most overlooked in low-budget indie holiday horror films. Locke and his team made damn sure there was a twinkling light, sparkle of tinsel, or nutcracker crammed into nearly every frame.
The plot twists might be relatively tame and somewhat predictable, but the bloody violence and memorable gore scenes set among a brilliant Christmas set design largely hit the mark.
Santa Isn’t Real is worth a shot and perhaps even a second viewing, especially if you enjoy candycane-shanks-to-the-eye and blood splatter in Santa’s beard.