Here’s something to add to your Christmas wish list…
Dial Code Santa Claus (1989)
Director: René Manzor
Stars: Alain Lalanne, Louis Ducreux, Brigitte Fossey
When a psychopathic Santa Claus invades his house and kills his dog on Christmas Eve, a young boy dressed like Rambo must defend his home and his family at all costs.
DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS (aka 3615 CODE PÈRE NOËL, DEADLY GAMES, or GAME OVER) was released in France in 1989, one year before another Christmas-themed home invasion movie starring a child came out in the United States. In fact, HOME ALONE is so similar to this movie that the filmmakers actually threatened to sue Fox for ripping it off. (Writer John Hughes claims he never heard of it, but ironically admits he did come up with the idea while vacationing in Paris the previous year…)
But while the Macauley Culkin version of the story is a funny, cartoonish family film, DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS feels more like HOME ALONE meets DIE HARD getting plowed by JOHN WICK. What if Kevin McCallister was actually in real danger of getting murdered by the Wet Bandits? What would happen if all of the traps and torture devices inflicted real damage? And what if the young child really felt the weight and trauma of everything he had to do to stay alive?
Some kids end up on the REALLY Naughty List.
It’s for these reasons and more that this R-rated version of HOME ALONE is so memorable. And you’ll forget all about Kevin McCallister after you meet DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUSE’s protagonist, Thomas de Frémont, a badass kid with an absolutely astounding mullet who’s obsessed with war movies. One of the film’s first scenes is a training montage showing the child oiling up his “muscles,” sharpening his knives, and suiting up with weapons and camo like a little Rambo to play war. The soldier’s objective? Track down the enemy (his beloved dog JR) and catch him in the hallway trap door.
If you’re wondering why Thomas’ house has a trap door, it’s because he lives in a weird castle in the French countryside that’s full of booby traps, secret passageways, a life-size maze, and a full-size fighter jet for him to play on. It’s never really explained why his house is like this, other than the fact that his mom is rich and an unecplored reference to his dead dad and the men in their family always hording their toys.
Aside from being a pint-sized super soldier, Thomas is also a certified genius—writing computer games and hacking in to networks, fixing cars better than most mechanics, and driving like a pro stunt driver even though he’s not old enough to cross the street alone. For some reason, he also built an impressively elaborate home security system with cameras, steel doors, and an underground Batcave full of weapons and supplies that even his mother doesn’t know exists. Don’t worry, all of this will come in very handy once the film’s plot kicks in.
Hey, if it worked for CREED, maybe it can work for RAMBO…
This is the point where I should reiterate that this is not a kid’s movie and any children you subject to DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS will likely need therapy. On Christmas Eve, Thomas’s mom goes to work and leaves him alone with his blind, enfeebled grandfather. Thomas hops online (an early protoype of the Internet called Minitel) and begins chatting with someone he believes to be Santa Claus. Little does he know, it’s actually a deranged homeless man on the other end, who, through a series of fortuitous events, actually shows up at Thomas’ house that night.
Thomas is still up, having rigged his home with cameras to catch Kris Kringle in the act, when “Santa” comes down the chimney. But instead of leaving presents, this St. Nick helps himself to milk and cookies…and proceeds to violently stab Thomas’ dog to death and attempts to do the same to him. Thinking that he’s pissed off Santa by trying to capture video evidence of him, Thomas runs away to rescue his grandfather and get out of the house.
From the script for MASSACRE ON 34TH STREET.
While HOME ALONE treated its adult elements with the seriousness of a Looney Tunes cartoon, DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS goes for a more realistic approach. The cat-and-mouse scenario may be fun to watch, but there’s always literal pain and trauma associated with every action. Thomas may be a badass Rambo Jr. with some of the tricks up his sleeve, but the movie never lets you forget that he’s also a child suffering real injuries and crying for his mom. It’s a brutal but unique spin to this kind of horror flick, one that you can’t believe the filmmakers actually went for. It’s also the rare movie where the characters act and behave like real human beings. As soon as Santa attacks, Thomas immediately gets his grandfather and runs to the car so they can drive as far away as possible. When that doesn’t work, he hides in clever locations around the house and sends SOS messages to everyone he knows in the hopes of getting help. That automatically makes him smarter than most movie protagonists.
And eventually when it looks like he’ll have to make a final stand against Santa Claus, like a mini-John McClane walking barefoot on broken glass, Thomas builds a splint for his injured leg, buries his dead dog, and sets out to murder jolly old St. Nick.
And thus Michael Bay’s first Christmas movie was born.
The last act where Thomas turns the table on Santa doesn’t disappoint. It’s not as much about the booby traps the same way HOME ALONE was, but more about the way the two antagonists literally toy with each other in a disturbing game of hide and seek. There is plenty of gratuitous fun to be had though, from Thomas locking Santa in a sauna that for some reason has a “death”setting to shooting him with a flaming dart gun to building a model train pipe bomb. There’s kills, car chases, and even a blind man wielding a very real gun.
Mr. Dart Board’s superpowers were not particularly impressive.
It’s such utter madness that makes DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS something worth adding to your holiday viewing list. It may be more of a hidden gem then a traditionally bad Christmas movie, but it’s crazy and out-there enough that it’s worth tracking down.
Santa keeps his candy cane in his pants.
DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS is currently out of print on Blu Ray, but is screening across the country this month courtesy of the American Genre Film Archive. Check your local listings (or Alamo Drafthouse)!
Take a shot or drink every time:
- Santa kills or injures someone
- Thomas is a badass
- Thomas suits up
- There’s a dutch angle
Double shot if:
- The dog dies and you feel the need to drink
Thanks to Jamie and Bryan for suggesting this week’s movie!
Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email and give him an excuse to drink.