Halloween Highway: Sint

Halloween is upon us and that means we should honour the old DV tradition of reviewing horror films on said day. Now for lots of countries, Halloween was a foreign tradition up to the moment the business market smelled a possible profit and soon the global invasion of the pumpkins started. Here in the low countries there’s a different tradition: Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicolas. This bishop who’s even older than The Doctor and an avid lover of children, comes to our shores in early December with the help of his black servants in order to bring lots of toys to good children and nada to the naughty. Bad children used to be put in the servants’ sacks, but that’s no longer the case. Either children are no longer naughty or Sint(erklaas) and the parents have chickened out.

Some adults will tell you the Sint’s tale is only a myth and that it’s actually the parents who buy stuff for their children. Well, that simply isn’t true. Nor is the aforementioned story true. The truth is much more terrifying… the Sint wasn’t born on December 5 (when Dutch kids get their presents – in Belgium the children get their presents one day later), but he died on that day. I say “die”, but actually he was brutally murdered on that night and now, every time December 5 coincides with a full moon, the Sint arises from the netherworlds and enjoys a lovely killing spree with his legion of black servants (read: zombies). Anyway, that’s the version Dick Maas wants you to believe. The Dutch director of the cult classics De Lift and Amsterdamned is back in business and apparently he still remembered all the tricks of the trade. The poster for Sint caused lots of controversy because if you looked carefully at the face of the Sint you’d see a zombie skull. Also, it might have been a problem for parents telling their young offspring that this was a Sinterklaas movie they weren’t going to watch in the cinema. Another director, famous for directing brainless tits-out-for-the-lads bubblegum cinema, started a campaign to boycott the film and thus Dick Maas got all the attention he’d wanted. But was Sint worth the publicity?

Frankly, no. The idea was great, but the execution left much to be desired. Of course, this is bubblegum horror, but the shot of a dead girl falling down the chimney may be effective… until you quicky turn the camera around 180°. Up to that point, only the acting and dialogues had bothered me. The actors seemed unable to say out loud what the script had made them learn by heart and you can’t blame them: some of the dialogue is so plastic I had to check the IMDb to see if Barbie hadn’t written the film. (Apparently not, unless she used a pseudonym.)
This makes Sint a good candidate for the foreign markets: if you watch the film subtitled or dubbed you won’t be so disturbed by this fake Dutch. However, sadly that isn’t the only problem with the film.

The Sint and his zombie horse traditionally ride on top of the roofs and thus the film needed to show this as well. At this point you’d have to be blind not to notice the effects are not quite convincing. I say “not quite convincing”, but I mean “ranging from poor to abysmal”. The many – and I have to stress this: many – deaths committed by Sint and his army of zombies aren’t always convincing either, but they’re entertaining bubblegum gore. The chase scene on the roof is long and therefore the lack of convincing effects becomes all the more noticable.

The main lead is young man Frank, a bit of a jerk and therefore he’s dumped by his girlfriend… who’s been cheating on him for over two months now.  But don’t feel too sorry for him: he’s also cheated on her once, with her best friend. Frank and a couple of friends dress up as Sinterklaas and servants and are unlucky enough to encounter the real Sint. Frank is the only one to survive, but as Frank’s ex is also brutally murdered, Frank becomes the main suspect for the police. The only one to believe him is a depressed police officer who’s been obsessed by the Sint myth since his family was butchered by the Sint on another full moon.
That’s all the plot there is, but a good horror doesn’t necessarily need more plot. However, good horror doesn’t need a wheelbarrow of clichés either. Sint doesn’t bother avoiding one or two dozens of familiar horror movies and this becomes painfully clear in the final scenes of the film. I tend to avoid spoilers at the Avenue, but frankly everyone can guess how this sort of film ends: Frank lives and the Sint is dead, or is he?
So let’s see how the movie unfolds. Frank and the police officer face Sint and zombies (check), Frank survives but the officer doesn’t (check), the Sint retreats (check), a hand grasps Frank (check) and it turns out to be the policeman (check) who still needs stumble through his dying words, Frank awakes in the hospital and is attacked by a zombie (check), which turns out to be a dream (check) and instead it’s the lovely girl he’d once had a night with and because he’s the hero of the town she says the most avoidable line in film history: “I have brought you a present. Wait, I’ll unwrap it for you.” Cue to her taking off her sweater (we only get to see her back) while the camera slowly moves towards the window, for a shot of Amsterdam. The camera slides over Amsterdam before zooming in on a church and you never guess who’s waiting there on the top of the church…

Did I just spoil the film for you? No, I didn’t. This is the sort of film you watch for the bubblegum gore and not for the plot. But it’s an outrage that the film didn’t try to be more original. This is ticking the boxes in the ways Disney and Michael Bay do. And before I leave you on this Halloween night, I just want to tell the children reading this blog that this horror film is a work of fiction. Of course the Sint isn’t a zombie and if you’re a good boy/girl you’ll get a present on December 5 or 6. But Dick Maas shouldn’t expect to be unwrapping anything – apart from another box of clichés, maybe…

4/10

(Teaser: only in Dutch)

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