Anyone disappointed by the brutally curt but otherwise impressive Rare Exports wrapping up just as it was getting going will be appeased by Saint's full-throttle approach to yuletide action. Cult Amsterdamned director Dick Maas pulls out all the stops to deliver an unashamedly trashy treat; he's even unafraid to put child characters in real peril, via a midway orphanage inferno that proves all bets are off. The film might not feature the actual Santa Claus, but the uniquely Swedish mythology makes for a refreshing change, and there are plenty of moments of truly imaginative, budget-defying spectacle.

As costumed revelers celebrate the December 5th tradition of Sinterklaas, a local legend rears his ugly head to prey on the unsuspecting children who worship him. It transpires that the real Saint Nick was actually a murderous medieval thief, who was put to flaming death along with his followers the Black Peters. Every time the holiday brings a full moon, Nick and his ghostly gang return, blending into the crowds dressed up in their honour. As a child, policeman Goert lost his whole family to the evil Saint, and is worried more devastation awaits with the return of the moon. As unexplained attacks occur, he must convince the community and authorities that supernatural vengeance is being wrought by Nick and his crew.

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Maas's twisted sense of humor is in full effect here, as well as his ability to balance his sublimely ridiculous subject with skilful jolts and harder-edged carnage than might be expected. The Christmas atmosphere is excellently conceived, despite the conspicuous lack of actual Christmas spirit; snowy exteriors are convincingly cold while fairy-light-strewn interiors are pleasingly warm, but this is no cosy fairy-tale. The cast all play the material relatively seriously, bringing some real intensity to proceedings, even if things never actually get scary.

The Black Peter henchmen are nicely reminiscent of John Carpenter's leprous pirate chiller The Fog, wreaking violent chaos wherever they appear, but the film's trump card is definitely its chief villain. A snarling undead monster incongruously decorated in Christian finery, Saint Nick is an inspired baddie; the undoubted highlight involves him riding horseback across rooftops with police cars hopelessly pursuing from the ground.

The relentless pace does become a little wearying, however, and the ending is unfortunately anti-climactic. The surprising religion-baiting subplot of the Catholic church covering up the attacks - ironically reflected in the court struggle the film's poster generated, where adults complained children might be frightened by the image of the ghostly Saint - also sadly gets lost in the muddle of cannon-fodder characters and fiery attacks that the convoluted story-line eventually becomes.

But for the most part, Saint is a great ride, offering plenty of genuine excitement and consistently inventive situations. Like seasonal classics Black Christmas and Silent Night Deadly Night, the festive appearance masks a dark heart that will surely see horror fans taking a new icon to their hearts.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2011
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After being murdered, bishop St Niklas seeks revenge every 32 years by giving the parents and children a Christmas they will never forget.
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Paul Logan ****


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