J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

PDXFF ’17: Secret Santa

Why are there so many Christmas horror movies? Because it is a family holiday. That is scary enough for many folks, but in the case of the Popes, it is absolutely terrifying—even before they are dosed with a psychosis-inducing drug. It will be coal for everyone in Adam Marcus’s Secret Santa (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Portland Film Festival.

April is in charge of her family’s gift exchange this year—and boy is it going to be miserable. Her ugly duckling sister Penny will continue blaming her for everything wrong in her life. Their half-brother Jackson will show up with his latest stripper girlfriend, Jacqueline. Their divorced father Leonard has been banished from the house, but he will show up anyway just to make a point. Meanwhile, their high-ball guzzling mother Shari will make everyone feel terrible about themselves, especially Penny and the youngest brother Kyle, the one with a stammer. At least April has brought her boyfriend Ty, so she has back-up. One of the caterers also happens to be Kyle’s lover, but he is totally not ready to come out of the closet yet.

As if the night were not already fun enough, several family members suddenly turn into raging maniacs. At first, they feel suspiciously hot and then they lash out. The corpses will pile up, starting with creepy Uncle Carter, but Mother Pope steadfastly refuses to air any of their dirty laundry in public.

Wow, if anything, Secret Santa is less brutal when they shut-up and start stabbing each other. Think of it as The Ref, but with more bloodletting, if we can still safely reference a movie starring you-know-who. Regardless, this is one of the most wickedly funny horror films of the season. Who knew Marcus, the writer-director of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday [which its wasn’t] and Texas Chainsaw 3D had it in him, but here it is.

His co-screenwriter Debra Sullivan is also spectacularly passive-aggressive as Ma Pope. As Pa Pope, John Gilbert has a slightly older and thinner Ron Perlman thing going on, which definitely works. Plus, you have to give Michelle Renee Allaire tremendous credit for being a good sport and showing off some decent action chops in her portrayal of Jacqueline. Likewise, as Jackson, actor-stunt artist Nathan Hedrick definitely came to play.


With Award-winning make-up artist Robert Kurtzman on-board as an executive producer and also providing his practical artistry, you can be sure there will be blood. This is turning out to be a banner year for holiday horror, with both Secret Santa and Better Watch Out destined to become annual Christmas traditions, along with Santa Stinks. In fact, they complement each other nicely, because they are both really twisted, but in very different ways. Highly recommended for horror and midnight movie fans, Secret Santa screens today (11/5), at this year’s PDXFF.

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