Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery. Fans of Japanese cult classic Battle Royale likely took issue with The Hunger Games. As Christmas gets closer, there will likely be a lot of people sitting down to watch Home Alone again. It’s joined Christmas Vacation and Elf as contemporary Christmas classics. Just don’t tell French director René Manzor. A few years before Home Alone became a box office sensation, Manzor made a little French horror movie called Dial Code Santa Claus that shares a very similar premise. Also called Deadly Games or Game Over, this French thriller also finds a young boy fighting off a home invader. Except this is a horror movie. And the home invader is a psychopath dressed as Santa Claus.
On Christmas Eve, Thomas is home alone with his grandfather and dog, J.R., while his mom works late. Something of a genius, Thomas rigs cameras throughout the family mansion in the hopes he’ll catch a look at Santa Claus. But the man Thomas connects with through a public department store computer isn’t Old Saint Nick. Hes a dangerously unstable drifter who dresses up as Santa Claus and breaks into the family’s home. Now Thomas must use every bit of ingenuity he possesses to protect his family.
Dial Code Santa Claus Finds Real Danger In Its ‘Home Alone’ Premise
There’s a good chance you’ve never seen Dial Code Santa Claus. In fact, many horror fans likely have never heard of this French horror thriller. And yes, this is a horror thriller. As compared to mainstream American movies, European filmmakers are typically more comfortable pushing against boundaries. Not surprisingly then, writer and director Rene Manzor creates genuinely dangerous situations for his young protagonist. While the result is often suspenseful, it’s also occasionally disturbing. When Patrick Floersheim’s Le Père Noël slaps a child while dressed as a department store Santa the scene is not played for laughs. In addition, Manzor shows Thomas getting hurt and replaces the boy’s initial enthusiasm and naivete with desperation. That is, Dial Code Santa Claus has stakes.
…writer and director Rene Manzor creates genuinely dangerous situations for his young protagonist. While the result is often suspenseful, it’s also occasionally disturbing.
Much of the thriller’s dread comes courtesy of Floersheim’s performance as the Killer Santa. Manzor’s screenplay tells us absolutely nothing about the drifter. He simply appears in the movie – Floersheim plays the man as unhinged but also desperately lonely. Early scenes hint at a man looking for any sort of connection. But Dial Code Santa Claus also hints at more upsetting connections that interest the drifter. And the ambiguity only makes the character more frightening. As for the performance itself, Floersheim makes for one of the more frightening Killer Santa portrayals.
Dial Code Santa Claus Oddly Mixes Unsettling Horror With Christmas Cheer
Though Dial Code Santa Claus boasts genuine suspense and uncomfortable moments, it’s also an intermittently strange movie. Some of this undoubtedly reflects the time period – there’s just some pure 80s excess in the music and visuals. And early scenes that find Thomas emulating screen hero John Rambo are actually somewhat endearing. But this is also where some of the strangeness emanates. From a tonal perspective, the French thriller awkwardly veers from disturbing action to warm Christmas sentimentality. By and large, the shifts actually work resulting in an add, but effective, viewing experience.
From a tonal perspective, the French thriller awkwardly veers from disturbing action to warm Christmas sentimentality.
A big part of the appeal of the thriller’s Yuletide sentiment stems from its child protagonist and his relationship with his grandfather. Everything about Alain Lalanne’s performance as the young Thomas feels natural. You’ll buy into Lalanne’s sheer excitement for the holidays and lean closer to the edge of your seat when his boyish enthusiasm gives way to genuine fear. If some of the action-oriented scenes feel awkward, it’s Lalanne’s delivery that makes it feel real. And the young boy’s love for his grandfather invests the thriller with emotional stakes.
Dial Code Santa Claus …
Not everyone is going to find something to like about Dial Code Santa Claus. This isn’t a mainstream Hollywood horror movie that favors jump scares and a neatly resolved conflict. Manzor’s willingness to put his child protagonist in dark scenarios where genuine danger lurks sets this thriller miles apart from Home Alone. Yet its quirky 80s vibes, mix of unsettling suspense and Christmas sentimentality, and good performances make this a worthwhile watch for horror fans. At the very least, it’s probably the best Killer Santa movie you’ve never heard of.